José Carioca in a characteristic pose.


Original Medium: Theatrical animation
Released by: Disney
First Appeared: 1942
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In 1941, Walt Disney and a large entourage of his employees took a lengthy tour of South America. They did this partly to spread good will among our global neighbors, partly to bolster Walt's own store of …

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… good will (his studio was on strike at the time) and partly to gather material for future animated projects. From this tour came two features (Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, both of which, like most 1940s Disney features, were made up of several separate segments instead of a single story), several short cartoons, and a potential new star — José Carioca.

A Carioca, in Brazilian parlance, is a person who lives in Rio de Janeiro; and José, of course, is how they say "Joseph" in Latin America. So José Carioca's name, loosely translated, means "Joe from Rio". And Rio is where José, an anthropomorphic parrot (but not from Parrotville, whose studio of origin didn't have anything resembling Disney's class), was based when he was introduced in "Aquarela do Brasil", the fourth segment of Saludos Amigos. The movie was released on February 6, 1943. José's co-star in that segment was Donald Duck, who also starred in the film's first segment, "Lake Titicaca".

Or at least, that's José's official first appearance, the one you'll find in all the animation reference works. But like Baby Huey and Donald's nephews, José made his actual first appearance in comics. On October 11, 1942, the Silly Symphonies comic strip began running his adventures, giving the movie a little pre-release publicity. Also, his segment of the movie was adapted into comic book form by cartoonist Carl Buettner (Li'l Bad Wolf, Bucky Bug), in Walt Disney's Comics & Stories #27 (December, 1942, which probably went on sale about when the comic strip began). "The Flying Gauchito" (another product of Disney's sojourn South) had gotten the same treatment three issues earlier. Those were the first two stories in that title which were not reprinted from newspaper comics.

José made several more appearances in the Walt Disney's Comics & Stories title. He also appeared in Dell Comics' adaptation of The Three Caballeros, which came out in 1945. The artist on the adaptation was Walt Kelly, creator of Pogo.

Back in the animation department, José got a much larger role in the second South America feature, The Three Caballeros (1945). This time, he co-starred with Donald (and a new character, Panchito, the third caballero) in two segments. In both features, his voice was provided by Brazilian actor José Oliviera. In addition to the features, production materials exist for a series of short cartoons, with José starring opposite a girlfriend named Aurora. These were probably planned for release during the late 1940s, but none were ever produced. He did, however, appear in one more feature, Melody Time. He was in one segment there, "Blame It on the Samba", where he again co-starred with Donald Duck.

Some Disney observers claim to have spotted him in Alice in Wonderland (1951), on the jury in the scene where The Red Queen put Alice on trial. But that's just a green parrot that looks a little like him — the resemblance isn't nearly close enough to say that's him. His next actual animated appearance was in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). He occasionally turns up in ABC's Saturday morning Mickey Mouse show, where his voice is done by Rob Paulsen (Yakko Warner, Gusto Gummi).

José hung around a couple more years in comic books, but was never a star. A few stories in the back pages and an occasional guest shot with Donald was about all he got — in the U.S., at least. But he was picked up by several foreign publishers that license the Disney properties, and has established himself as a minor but regular character in a couple of European countries. And in Brazil, where he lives — in Brazil, he's become a star. There, he first headlined his own comic book in 1961, and has been an important part of Brazil's Disney scene ever since.

In fact, he became so popular in Brazil, in the early 1960s the publisher had local production artists erase Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse from proofs of American comics, and draw José Carioca in their place. This resulted in a couple of nephews, Zico and Zeca, being attached to him, to take the place of the nephews in the stories being passed off as José's. In more recent years, the Brazilian version has even become a superhero, Morcego Verde (The Green Bat).

And there he stands — in parts of Europe, a familiar sight to comic book readers. In Brazil, a star among the Disney characters. And in the U.S., just a another one that fizzled.


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Text ©2002-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art © The Walt Disney Company.