Panchito takes center stage.

PANCHITO

Original Medium: Comic books
Licensed from: Disney
First Appeared: 1943
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In the early 1940s, Walt Disney and many of his employees made a goodwill tour of Latin America. They didn't do it just to cement relations with our neighbors to the south — they also …

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… hoped to find inspiration for new films, new themes, new characters. But the most prominent new character to result from the tour, José Carioca, made little impact in the U.S.; and others, including a particularly flamboyant pollo pistolero Mexicano (pistol-packing chicken from Mexico), went practically nowhere at all.

Panchito Pistoles made his animated debut in The Three Caballeros, released in the U.S. on February 3, 1945. He was the third caballero, after José Carioca (making his second animated appearance) and Donald Duck. In fact, his entire design was geared to stand out against backgrounds, while avoiding any clash with José's predominantly green and yellow coloration or Donald's blue and white. He wound up with mostly reddish-brown plumage, vermillion clothing and yellow highlights.

But like so many Disney characters, his actual first appearance was in a comic book — Walt Disney's Comics & Stories #35 (August, 1943), where a text story about him and Donald gave the movie a little advance promotion. The design was still in development, and his coloring in the accompanying illustration was different. His name, too, hadn't yet been finalized — here, he was called Pancho el Charro. He had his proper name (but not coloring) three months later, in a story illustrated by Ken Hultgren (Bambi). (In this story, implausibly enough, he'd traveled north to woo Clara Cluck.) He made a few more minor comic book appearances before the film opened, and the coloring was finally set in #50.

Personality-wise, Panchito always seemed to be having a good time, and he liked to share the fun in his own obnoxious way. He was loud and brash (voiced by Joaquin Garay, who has no other voice credits), and always in frenetic motion (animated by Ward Kimball, creator of Jiminy Cricket), with a sense of humor that was sadistic and dangerous even by cartoon standards. His habit of punctuating everything he said with pistol fire, and firing his pistols anyway even when not saying anything, didn't make him any safer to be around. The audience liked him better as a movie character than they probably would have if he'd been standing next to them. Still, he didn't make any more appearances on the Big Screen.

He fared better in comics, where he continued to make occasional appearances in Walt Disney's Comics & Stories, but only in text stories with other characters, and he never did become a regular. He was also, naturally enough, one of the co-stars of the Dell Comics' adaptation of the film. And he was the lead character of the Silly Symphonies newspaper comic from Jan. 7, 1945 until the strip ended on Oct. 7 of the same year. (It was there that his horse, Señor Martinez, and his girlfriend, Margarita, were first seen.) His text stories became increasingly rare, petering out in the mid-1950s. He's still used from time to time overseas, especially in Italy and The Netherlands. In the early 20-aughts, cartoonist Don Rosa, whose critically-acclaimed Uncle Scrooge stories have made him a celebrity in some parts of the world, began re-uniting the Caballeros in comic book form.

He returned to animation when the Saturday morning TV show, House of Mouse, began using him as a semi-regular (voiced by Carlos Alazraqui, who also did Mr. Crocker in Fairly OddParents). A highlight occurred in the January 19, 2002 episode, in which he sang a song giving more personal information than had ever been revealed before. It seems he has relatives all over Latin America (even as far north as Texas), and his full name is Panchito Romero Miguel Junipero Francisco Quintero Gonzales. (His former surname, Pistoles, is apparently a nickname, and it isn't hard to see where he got it.)

He no longer spews bullets indiscriminately, but still seems unlikely to generate enough appeal to become a star.

— DDM

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Text ©2005-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art © The Walt Disney Co.