Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dumbo Part 14

Dumbo is now part of the clown's act. There are interesting parallels between this sequence and what's gone before. The clown with the elephant head is shrieking "Save my baby," so Dumbo's situation is a parody of his mother attempting to protect him from kids on the midway earlier in the film. In this act, a clown whacks Dumbo's rear to get him moving as Timothy did to get him moving in the pyramid sequence. However, Timothy was attempting to launch Dumbo as a success, where the clown is forcing Dumbo to take a pratfall. Finally, Dumbo has a rattle clutched in his trunk where he earlier grasped a flag to crown the pyramid. The actions earlier in the film are replayed here as farce.

There's no getting around how lame the clowns are. None of the gags is particularly clever and I think that was a conscious decision on the part of the filmmakers. Had the clowns been genuinely entertaining, the audience would have been distracted from Dumbo's situation and his humiliation would not have been as great.

The draft says that the stuff Dumbo falls into is plaster. Ouch.

Les Clark handles most of the Dumbo close-ups. In some of them, Dumbo's irises are huge. Was that intentional or were the shots assisted by different artists?

Grant Simmons and (probably Ray) Patterson handle the clowns. All the animation has strong poses and good timing. The clown action is often furious, but it all reads clearly. In shots 15 and 19, Simmons does some interesting work with cycles. The design of the clowns' eyes make them closer to automatons than living creatures, as they are expressionless for the most part.

The music in this sequence needs to be mentioned. It's fast-paced and slightly discordant. It certainly communicates that the actions on screen are not to be taken seriously. There is no sound from the circus audience until the act ends, when there is applause and whistling. As bad as the act is, the film has to tell us that it is a success so that the clowns' future actions are motivated.


Eric Noble said...

Wonderful analysis Mr. Mayerson. The clowns kind of creep me out with how mechanical they are. I love each and every post you make on this film. Thank you for this.

Zartok-35 said...

Everyone says the clowns aren't funny, but I have t oadmit that shot 24 is easily one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

Steven Hartley said...

Both Grant and Ray do the clowns really well, and I think the clowns are funny, however I really like shot 17 when the clown has a barrel and that's very funny.

Mark, the clowns is definately Ray Patterson, it couldn't have be Don Patterson because Grant Simmons and Ray Patterson have been partners for many years, and however...Ray Patterson went on to animate Tom and Jerry, and you can realy tell that there is Tom & Jerry style there!

Anonymous said...

The whole clown "scenario" is "lame" in a kind of self-referential way, in that by 1941 practically every cartoon studio, from Warners to Van Beuren, had done a "silly firefighters" cartoon, with a band of incompetents trying to fight a blaze. The gags, such as they are, in these are just slightly more exaggerated than those the audience had no doubt seen before, and which many of the animators had probably worked on elsewhere. I might even go so far as to say that the whole scene may have been a dig at that kind of cartoon humor that was becoming stale by 1941.

John V. said...

At the risk of coming across a Devil's (Chernobog's?) advocate here, maybe we've got the wrong end of the stick. Maybe the Disney studio believed that all of these clown antics were funny, and maybe the 1941 audience were laughing. Remember that a lot of the Disney studio staff had a circus background. This sequence may even have been conceived as a "vehicle" for some clown gags to entertain the audience with.

The fact that the circus audience isn't heard laughing throughout the sequence could be because the film makers felt that this would distract the audience from the "hilarious" antics on screen (although doesn't it also seem likely that they would have included the sound of laughing, to help encourage the audience to laugh as well?).

By the way, as I mentioned on my blog, notice that many of the shots of Dumbo have numbers like "26.2" or are out of sequence, suggesting that they were added or rearranged to make sure the audience attention was focused on the little elephant (and, perhaps, that they didn't get too distracted by the clowns?)

It could well be the case that the film makers gradually lost faith in the clowning holding the audience's attention. If you look at the draft for the "Big Town - Dumbo Triumphs" sequence, you'll see several clown shots that were later removed, and evidence of many more that had already been taken out.

Raúl Marco said...

I think in this film the clowns are villains, as well the ringmaster and the elephants, and the clowns' show try to be silly and grotesque, and the most important thing, humiliating against Dumbo.
This scene reminds me "Elmer Elephant", the firemen are monkeys, incompetent as Anonymous has said, and the elephant is the hero instead of the victim.