Just picture this: a studio producing a “family oriented” film, where an infant gets completely drunk, to the point of hallucinating about scary looking elephants who morph into all kind of shapes an objects. And guess which studio did this: no other than Disney, who nowadays doesn’t even allow smoking in certain scenes in its films. You can tell it was 1941.
But you can’t tell it was the early 40’s when you take a look at this scene, which still dazzles me not only because of its subject matter, but because the artistic achievement in animation it represents.
It is a part of the film Dumbo, which was made for the studio to recover from the economical (and critical) failure that was Fantasia (1940) (Even though through the years that film has become the 22nd highest grossing film in the U.S).
Disney needed to make a film as fast as possible, and most of all, on the cheap. It took one year to make it (nothing if we consider this is hand drawn animation), and they managed to stay on budget by painting the backgrounds with watercolors (instead of the usual oils or gouaches) and keeping it only 64 min long.
Those are some of the reasons I’m so fond of this scene: after Fantasia it represented a high risk for the studio, but they went for it anyway. Walt Disney was fascinated with surrealism and the art of Salvador Dali. You can tell there are so many elements in this sequence inspired by his artwork, from irregular angles, to non-constant gravity, and pretty much no rules regarding objects physics.
The use of music is also so interesting, from March to Calypso, moving from one genre to the other flawlessly. Also the use of color is incredible. As an artist myself it amazes me how they were able to achieve all this eye popping palettes and effects without the use of any computer software, and on a budget? wow.
Pink Elephants of Parade represents a moment of triumph in cinema: it was achieved despite World War II, the Disney Animators’ Strike in 1941, and budget and time limitations.
And of course, because I still find amusing watching a drunk baby elephant on a Disney film, times have definitively changed. But what still remains is a timeless (and beautiful) sequence in animation.