Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Raw Notes: Pink Elephants on Parade

Here's a contribution to the ongoing Dumbo-fest. These are the raw notes I took while starting and stopping my way through the "Pink Elephants on Parade" sequence. Depending on this that and the other I may write a formal post, with screen shots and analytic commentary. But that effort starts with raw notes such as these, which must be checked and refined, etc. Even if I don't get around to doing such a post, these notes may be of use to others.

The point of such a post, of course, would be to suss out the logic in this progression. And there surely is a logic, an imaginative logic, that's guiding this. The task is to figure out what that logic is. For examples of this kind of work, see my posts on Nutcracker and Sorcerer's Apprentice, Rite of Spring, and Dance of the Hours, all from Fantasia.

* * * * *

Chapter numbers are from the 60th Anniversary Edition of Dumbo.

Ch 12

The drunk sequence.

Dumbo starts blowing bubbles.

Miscellaneous standard ones – Timothy plays with them in various ways.

Then Dumbo blows a zig-zag, which then turns itself into a more or less sphere.

Timothy asks him to blow a square one, which he does.

Then a greaaaat big one, which he does.

Ch 13

And it morphs into an elephant, which then turns pink.

1) “Pink Elephants” proper starts with a Dumbo-blown elephant, which then turns pink, starts walking, makes eyes, and both Dumbo and Timothy are quite surprised. The first elephant then blows another elephant, and the second blows a third, the third blows a fourth, and we’re off. Their trunks become trumpets, they start playing them, the trunks merge into one bell, which grows, bursts, and the elephants come out parading through it.

The elephants all have parts of their bodies as musical instruments, which play the music we’re hearing. So the sound-track becomes diegetic, to use a term from academic film crit (it simply means that the music can be traced ton an on-screen source). The music in this section is entirely instrumental. Various gags playing on this.

One of them results in a bunch of small elephants prancing around across the screen. Dumbo appears, face full-screen. The small elephants march across the bottom of the frame (L to R), up the right side, over, around and down, the parading meeting itself at the bottom and then filling the entire frame.

The inflate, burst, and we hear the trumpet call that started the parade. At the same time Dumbo covers his face with his ears. We’re about to move to the second part of the sequence.

2) This begins with vocals singing about the elephants: “Look out, look out, pink elephants on parade . . . “ Visually, they enter through a window at the left into a dark and poorly defined space. First a stream of light pink ones, then darker pink, and then all over. “. . . they’re here, they’re there, pink elephants everywhere.”

They circle some odd mechanical thing, which turns out to be an upside down (hospital) bed in which we find yet another pink elephant, one that’s terrified of the others and hides under the white sheet. Colors: black, grey, white, pink, which chartreuse accents on the chests of the elephants.

We move back away from the bed. Two white elephants appear, facing, one upside right, the other upside down. “What’ll I do, what’ll I do, what an unusual view.” They disappear.

And we get a virtuoso sequence of colorful visual gags, which are more or less commented upon in the lyrics of the song. Deep bass voice for a verse, high squeaky voice (sorta like Sterling Holloway). At some point the screen fills with colorful zig zags – like TV noise. And then we see some hulking walking creature built of elephant heads walking toward us. The yellow face fills the screen. The voices finish – “. . . pink elephants on parade ade ade ade [fade] pink elephants pink elephants.”

And we’re into the third phase. No singing, nor do we have any more in the sequence. It’s all instrumental from here on. And the music changes from the pink elephants song to other stuff, in other styles.

3) The yellow elephant’s eyes morph into pyramids, and we get an Arabian scene, with a “hybrid” pink camel-elephant and slinky music on the sound-track. Sounds like some kind of electronic instrument, too.

The camelephant passes a pyramid, which becomes, first an elephant playing its trunk, then a musician playing some kind of oboe. Meanwhile the camelephant morphs into a dancing cobra, into a belly-dancing elephant. The bouncing belly takes on a life of its own, detaches, becomes round, and becomes an eye looking at us.

Now, four yellow elephants rise up playing a fanfare. Transition . . . .

4) Smooth slinky music, harp chords, strings, flutes. This music is a dramatic departure from the “skewed” and comic music we’ve heard in the segment to this point.

We see a pair of elephants rendered in bold black, pink, and green chiaroscuro (the pink and green being the high-lighted portions of the body). They’re a couple, presumably the large one is male, the small one is female. They dance, various styles, then skating skiing. This segment seems to parody dance sequences from movies (recall “Dance of the Hours” from Fantasia). There’s even a pond sequence, with one of the elephants doing her poses (ala Hyacinth Hippo).

The skiing throws up a wash of snow and we morph into south-of-the-border Latin music (with two snow-covered elephants shivering in the cold). Two elephants break out of the snow shells, blue, then a really dense hot pink, dancing the samba. We’ll get an electric charge linking them, fanny’s swinging, with an elephant treating a length of electrical charge as a scarf or sash, which it rubs across its buttocks as it moves to the beat.
This is all movie-parody stuff. Abstract, as it’s mostly dancing elephants against a mostly blank background, though some lines and swashes here and there. We sense the ground by the way the feet move against it, not by actually seeing it there. This is really clever and skillful animation.
The large (male?) elephant tosses the a lightening bolt at the other (female?) elephant, who explodes and the screen if filled with samba-dancing pink elephants (light blue high-lights) against a black background. Then blue, red, orange, the elephants now black silhouettes and. . . we’re back to just two elephants against a black background.

The music picks up pace – faster and faster. The two elephants become motor cars . . . and then whole thing just goes nuts. Trains, cars, speed boats, toboggans . . . and we have one more explosion. This one leaves pink elephants floating down the screen against a black background and ethereal floating sounds on the soundtrack.

The background will transform into a country scene, tall tree against the sky. The elephants will become clouds. It’s dawn. Delicate morning music. Tweeting birds.

And the pink elephant sequence is over. Time for the crows.


  1. As a kid, most of my information on the Disney films seemed to come from watching "Sing-Along Songs" videos, and when I first saw the complete films, it often took a while to adjust to seeing these sequences the way they were meant to be. So, for a while, all I knew of the "Pink Elephants" sequence was the beginning of section 1 (up to "the trunks merg[ing] into one bell") and section 2.

    Also, the animation draft posted by Hans Perk only contains sections 1 and 2.

    "an upside down (hospital) bed"

    Never thought of it that way before... I assumed the elephant in the bed was supposed to be like a kid, afraid of monsters when the light goes out... now I see him as a patient in a psychiatry ward, tormented by visions... Creepy!

    "slinky music on the sound-track. Sounds like some kind of electronic instrument, too."

    Which, oddly enough, sounds like the "bridge" they added for the mid-late 60s Looney Tunes theme (first heard in "Now Hear This").

  2. Of course, I don't really know that it's a hospital bed. But it did have casters on the legs, which hospital beds do have, but it is not typical of beds used in private homes.

    I'm sure I saw the whole film as a kid, and I saw in on Disney's TV show, most likely in black and white (we didn't have a color TV). But the pink elephants sequence was often shown by itself.