Friday, August 27, 2010

Dumbo Part 20

I'm going to start off with a plea. Hans Perk's documentation for Dumbo is incomplete in several areas, but never more frustratingly than in the "Pink Elephants" sequence. He only has credits for the first 9 shots.

This sequence is a tour de force. It is graphically daring, using colour treatments, metamorphosis and shot transitions in ways that were out of the ordinary for Disney and every other animation studio of the time.

The missing information is out there, I'm sure. If anyone can supply the information for the rest of this sequence, I would greatly appreciate it. I would be happy to give credit to whoever supplies it, or would be happy to keep the donor anonymous if that is the donor's preference. If you have access to a complete copy of the animator draft or access to the scene folders for this sequence, could you please supply me with the information?

This sequence is an alcohol-induced joint hallucination of Dumbo's and Timothy's and ends with images of a tree, which will turn out to be their new location. The sequence can best be described as a stream of consciousness (or unconsciousness?) where each elephant action leads to another without any sense of narrative logic.

Wikipedia says that the first recorded use of the term "pink elephants" is from Jack London in 1913. The phrase was used musically by George Olsen and His Music in the 1932 recording below, so Disney was not the first to use it as the basis for a song.

Please note that after shot 9, the shot numbers are pure guesswork. I could number the later shots differently and still support the alternate numbering. For instance, the tearing curtain in shot 13, revealing the skaters, could be thought of as a wipe between two separate shots rather a single shot. Did a single animator do the work before and after the curtain? Even if that is the case, it might still be two shots in the eyes of the production team.

Howard Swift tends to give the elephants more pointy heads than Hicks Lokey. Is that due to the animators' drawing styles or did that come from the layouts? If it's the animators, it gives us a clue as to who did the later, unidentified shots, but if it comes from the layouts, all bets are off.

I have to admit that my favorite animation in this sequence is the skaters. I love the striking colour treatment and the animation is as flexible and fluid as it gets. Who animated it? I wish I knew.

The opening 4 shots portray the elephants as very bubble-like, as they have originated as bubbles blown by Dumbo. By shot 5, they are being treated more solidly, though liberties are taken with their colours and their construction.

Shots 15 through 18 are very interesting for their suggestion of male and female elephants. With all the shots of mothers in the "Baby Mine" sequence and Dumbo being named for his father, this is the only hint in the film of male animals. The lightning between the dancers in shot 15 can be interpreted as sexual energy. Can this be considered a wet dream? That interpretation can be supported by the phallic imagery of the snake in shot 11 or the raised trumpets of shot 15. The harem elephant's suggestive hip wiggling also supports this. Or are the dancers Dumbo's longing for an elephant father figure and a complete family unit? Is it a coincidence that the male-female dynamic of the dancers leads to the chaos that ends the dream? Like real dreams, this can be interpreted several ways, but there's no doubt that something deep and agitating has been released to cause Dumbo to become airborne.


Steven Hartley said...

Sadly, the rest of the draft is missing, and I wish I knew who animated the rest of the draft.

Although, Howard Swift has appeared quite a bit in this sequence, and Hicks Lokey has only appeared in 8 shots in the film altogether and I'm guessing he appears more in the sequence!

According to Wikipedia, it says that Frank Thomas is credited for animating Pink Elephants, but that's too much of a stretch.

I'm guessing animators like Harvey Toombs might have a bit to do with it, I'm guessing maybe Larson could have a bit on it, but I doubt it!!

I know that Michael Barrier owns the drafts for the films, and I've never asked him about the Pink Elephants draft, I might try.

Its one of my favourite sequences, and I'm very interested the layouts by Ken O'Connor did, and there's not a lot of details in this, and I thank O'Connor for making this possible and also Fergy, Lokey or Swift.

John V. said...

I have to admit that my favorite animation in this sequence is the skaters.

I guess they liked it at the studio as well. In the draft for "Once Upon A Wintertime" (part of the Melody Time package feature, posted up by Hans) the male lead is described as skating "pink elephant style".

Eric Noble said...

Very interesting. I like your interpretation of this sequence. I will have to study this myself. I should learn how to interpret dreams. Fascinating work Mr. Mayerson.

Pete Emslie said...

Dumbo's having a wet dream??!!!

This revelation makes one wonder now what was really going on in that earlier scene, when Timothy whispers in the ear of the sleeping ringmaster, "You are now getting that climax!"

Sorry, couldn't resist that....

Hans Perk said...

Mark, I hope you have more luck getting a response to your request for more information than I have had! As I said, this was the way the draft looked in the BG Morgue already in the 60s, with the info missing and just a few boxes indicating the missing scenes.

The missing info in other parts I think is due to the very short production time: there was really not much need for this draft as go-to document to be very up-to-date, as it would be outdated almost immediately. The only good place to find the info is in the scene folders, on the exposure sheets. Pity, though - but the missing page in the Pink Elephants sequence is really irritating indeed!

John V. said...

This revelation makes one wonder now what was really going on in that earlier scene, when Timothy whispers in the ear of the sleeping ringmaster, "You are now getting that climax!"

Seriously (?) though, it does feel a bit weird hearing Timothy whisper "climax!" into the Ringmaster's ear, with the Ringmster enthusiastically repeating "climax!" as he sleeps ... even though we know that's not what they *really* mean...

stevef said...

As usual, all I have is misinformation. I recall reading somewhere that Jack Kinney directed this sequence. Obviously, he didn't, but I can see him contributing to it. Maybe that's a clue as to where to find more information on this.

By the way, the first time I saw this film was at a drive-in in the late '60's, when animated hallucinations attracted an entirely different kind of audience.

Michael Barrier said...

On my copy of the draft (which came to me through Mark Kausler) the sheets for the Pink Elephant sequence are dated 1/29/41 and show no animator credits at all. When Milt Gray and I interviewed Howard Swift in 1976, he told us (in his edited version of the transcript): "I remember roughing out part of the Pink Elephant sequence, about 100 ft. in a week, which was unheard of at Disney's at that time. It went all over the studio. Fergy had handed me the whole sequence and I took all the big boards down to my room. Hicks Lokey did the marching around the room elephant that followed my little Dumbo getting smashed on the champagne and blowing the funny shaped bubbles--one bubble changed into a goofy elephant and that's how it started. I had asked Fergy to hand out the marching elephants as I didn't want to get bogged down with that stuff. He did and that cleared me for the fun stuff."

bill benzon said...

I agree, this is brilliant animation. And there IS a narrative logic to the sequence, some of which I've spelled out in this post. I agree with you on the appearance of male and female elephants after the pyramid sequence. Most interesting.