A couple of hours after I’d posted my analysis of the “Pink Elephants” sequence, I googled the sequence to see what would pop up. Google returned almost 67,000 hits. I don’t know whether that’s a lot or not; it’s just a number.
Of course, there's a Wikipedia entry. And there’s a good many clips of the sequence, including this one which is synched to Sun Ra playing the song. The song’s also been recorded by Barbara Cook (no visual), who specializes in nuanced performances of Broadway and cabaret tunes. The Dancing Image has posted over 50 frame grabs from the sequence (though the order is off in some cases). Mnemosyne Productions has posted a tribute to the sequence; the tribute uses stop-motion animation (on a Mexican theme), with music performed by Seattle’s Circus Contraption.
At the beginning of the year Cartoon Brew posted notice of a debate between Bill Plympton and Pat Smith. Plympton said it’s not all that; Smith said it is. Readers joined the debate on all three pages.
One issue: scariness. Plympton said it wasn’t all that scary. Some agreed; Smith and others disagreed with him. Scariness, like beauty, is surely in the eye of the beholder. And a young child is likely to behold the sequence differently from an adult. My own take, as you can gather from my analysis, is that part of it was meant to be scary (the first half) and part of it wasn’t (the second half).
And then there’s the question of how it served the film. A number of people pointed out that it doesn’t seem to have much to do with the rest of the film, which makes sense. Others were quite satisfied with it in context, which also makes sense – I address this as well. Commenting at the Brew, Russell H remarks:
This scene is important if one agrees with the concept thatt DUMBO is so effective because it’s a classic “hero” tale in the Joseph Campbell sense. At this point in a story like this, it’s common that the hero (Dumbo) , befriended by a “trickster” (Timothy) is taken on a “vision quest” (a mystical journey that reveals his destiny) and awakens in “another world” (the countryside away from the circus) where he meets other “outsiders” (the crows) who help him to unlock his latent talent –he really was flyng during the “Pink Elephants” sequence) and fulfill his destiny (he goes back, avenges himself on those who humiliated him, and brings fame and glory to the circus).
Without this sequence, how can Dumbo learn to fly in a non-contrived, dramatic way in the context of the story?