Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Disney's Dumbo: A Myth of Modernity

It was back in the early Spring of 2007 that I sent Mike Barrier a longish email on Dumbo. I sent it as ordinary correspondence and did expect him to publish it. But he did. Which was fine by me.

But I had no intention to do any more work on Dumbo.

Then, for whatever reason, I posted Secrets of Pink Elephants Revealed in the Fall of 2010. Again, I had no particular reason in mind and certainly had no intention of doing extensive work on the film. That post become the second most popular one on New Savanna, and still is.

Tripping the Elephants Electric was my third major piece on Dumbo. I posted it on June 29 of this year, 2012, and fully intended to do some more work on the film. But not as much as I ended up doing.

And I will do more work on it. Just how much more, and when, I don’t know. For now, though, it is best to lay things to rest, more or less. I need to let things settle down before I read through the whole slew of posts and try to make sense of it all.

For that WILL be required. I like what I’ve done. I don’t feel that I’m on top of things just yet. It’s more like I’m just getting around to figuring out what questions need to be asked. I need to think more about animals and about this “myth logic” that I keep invoking. And I probably need to gin up some more sophisticated intellectual equipment, more than can be conveniently deployed on New Savanna, even in a series of long-form posts.

As an example of the sort of thing I’ll be pondering, consider the bath scene. Vladimir Tytla, the lead animator for Dumbo, based his work in that scene on observations of his own infant son interacting with his mother as she bathed him. We SEE an elephant on the screen, but we see the gestures and motions of a human infant and mother at play. Similarly, in the middle of The Nutcracker Suite in Fantasia we see goldfish dancing languorously and sensuously. Don Lusk based those movements on footage that director Sam Armstrong shot of Princess Omar, who is supposed to have danced before crowned heads.

We see animals on the screen, but we feel their movements as human movements—or do we? Not quite, not exactly, I think. We abstract or extract the motions from the image and match the movements we see with our own inner movements. Somehow in this process the movements themselves float free of us and them and become just movements and gestures, pure expression. Essences even.

That’s what I want to understand. One of the things anyhow.

It’s a simple thing, really. But we don’t have the language we need to understand that simplicity. That’s what I’m after. That language.

This marvelous film has brought me closer to it.

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You can download a PDF of the Dumbo posts here. I have revised them slightly in the process of gathering them together, but I haven't made any substantive changes.

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