Saturday, September 18, 2010
Dumbo Part 22
Except for two shots, one by Walt Kelly and the other by Don Towsley, Ward Kimball and Fred Moore dominate this sequence. Kimball does the entire song, "When I See an Elephant Fly" (except for Kelly's shot 22), including shots of Timothy. Then Moore takes Timothy over for his heartfelt recitation of Dumbo's troubles. Once again, the film is powered by contrast, this time moving from the upbeat song to the plea for understanding.
Was Kimball ever better than this and his work in Pinocchio? The music here allows him to be as broad as he wants to be while the crows' reaction to a flying elephant is perfectly reasonable. As much as I love Kimball's work, there are times I feel his broadness pulls me out of a film. His work here and in Pinocchio has an emotional grounding that keeps him functioning as part of the story.
All of Kimball's strengths are on display here: brilliant posing, fantastic accents and eccentric movements. The bottom half of the crow with glasses in shot 12 is just astounding in the way it moves. I can't figure out how Kimball planned it. Maybe he animated it straight ahead knowing where the beats were, but there's no obvious logic to it and yet it works. The shots that follow it with the two tall crows dancing are approached more conventionally, but Kimball's posing and timing make them stand out, the same as shots 19 and 20 animated to Cliff Edwards' scat singing.
If Kimball quit the business after animating this song, we'd still consider him a genius animator.
I've already written about how Kimball doesn't care which voice comes out of which crow and also pointed out that the two crows switch positions in shot 14. I've found yet another cheat. In shots 25 and 29, Jim Crow is painted different colours, so there's a sixth crow in the sequence. This might be because the film cuts from shot 29, with all the crows on the ground, to shot 30 with Jim Crow standing elsewhere. Perhaps the wrong colours were used to avoid the appearance of a jump cut.
Moore's animation does an excellent job with Ed Brophy's voice track. His trademark rhythmic line is present in his poses and his accents, such as kicking and grabbing the hat in shot 46, are dead on. Moore captures Timothy's anguish and emotional exhaustion well, making the crows' eventual response believable. Timothy's speech provokes tears, embarrassed looks and in shot 41, a cringe when Timothy describes how they made Dumbo a clown.
I've always felt that cringe was very daring. It rips away the pretense that the crows are genuinely happy, revealing their awareness of their own social position. It's that line of dialogue and the reaction to it that convert the crows to Dumbo's allies. They know what Dumbo's experienced, even if they're not showing it. Having the crows take Dumbo's side implicitly acknowledges that they are equally victims of injustice, a rather audacious racial attitude for a 1940 Hollywood film.