‘Three Amigos’ Was the First Disneyland Movie, Not ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’

Before Jack Sparrow, there was Dusty Bottoms
‘Three Amigos’ Was the First Disneyland Movie, Not ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’

Thanks to good old-fashioned soulless corporate synergy, Disney stubbornly continues to churn out big budget movies based on their theme park attractions, from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, to the two Haunted Mansion films, to the waking animatronic nightmare known as The Country Bears

But the case could be made that the first ever movie based on a Disneyland attraction wasn’t actually made by Disney, and in no way featured scenes of Johnny Depp constantly guzzling rum to wash down his mouthfuls of scenery. It did, however, feature Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short. We’re, of course, talking about Three Amigos!.

As Martin, who also co-wrote the film, revealed in his book Number One Is Walking, the seeds of the idea for Three Amigos! were planted back when the future comedy superstar was only 12. No, he didn’t save the residents of a small Mexican village before hitting puberty, but he did have a pretty cool summer job. Beginning at the age of 10, Martin spent his weekends and summers working at Disneyland, the Happiest Place on Earth for kids of all ages (plus kids who provided cheap labor apparently). Martin worked a variety of jobs at the newly-opened park, including selling guide books and performing illusions in Merlin’s Magic Shop. 

He also worked in Frontierland, the area of the park featuring cowboys, horses and little to no mention of the abject horrors of Westward expansion. Martin’s job was demonstrating rope tricks along with rodeo cowboy Eddie Adamek. While stationed in the fake Old West, Martin worked across from an act called Gonzalez, Gonzalez and Gonzalez, aka the Gonzalez Trio, a “popular group in early Disneyland history” who sang songs like “Tacos for Two” (a parody of “Cocktails for Two”) and “La Bamba” before it was a hit for Ritchie Valens.

Their version of the Mexican tune “¡Ay, Jalisco, No Te Rajes!” stuck with Martin for years, possibly because the song’s melody had previously been borrowed/appropriated by Disney for the 1944 Donald Duck-starring animated film The Three Caballeros

Seeing Disney’s trio of entertainers in matching sequined outfits and sombreros performing “nearly a dozen shows a day” clearly made an impression on ‘lil Steve, and obviously served as a major inspiration for what became Three Amigos! (as did an L.A. restaurant’s mural of a “vaquero rearing back on a horse and waving his hat”). Since the title The Three Caballeros “was taken,” he came up with the Three Amigos! instead.

So technically, the beloved ‘80s comedy — co-written by Lorne Michaels and Randy Newman for some reason — is the first major motion picture to be based on a Disneyland attraction, even if Disney, not to mention the Gonzalezes themselves, never got a cut of the film’s profits.

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this). 


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