Sunday, August 8, 2010

Dumbo Part 17

This sequence, the song "Baby Mine," is the emotional center of the film. Looking at it by itself, it's surprising how little screen time there is of Dumbo and his mother. Obviously, what's there is very powerful, but this is a case where the film makers felt that less is more. The entire story has built to this moment. The bond between mothers and children is so primal and the injustices suffered by Dumbo and his mother are so appalling, that the audience's emotions are waiting for the release that this sequence provides.

The music has a melancholy quality that tempers the joy of the reunion with an underlying sadness.

A great deal of the power of this sequence comes from touch. All the animals except the ostriches are sleeping while physically touching each other. There is much physical contact between Dumbo and his mother. The rocking, in shots 1.2 and 12, though done with an elephant's trunk instead of human arms, is familiar to everyone in the audience, parent or child. The caressing in shot 1.1 is also familiar. As a species, we need physical contact with our loved ones in order to feel secure.

Here are a series of frames from scene 1.1, animated by Bill Tytla.

In the first five panels above, Tytla shows the pleasure Dumbo feels from the caress. This is a happy reunion. In panel 6, the tears start to flow and after a slight anticipation in panel 7, the grief that Dumbo feels overcomes him. In panels 8-12, he clutches his mother's trunk close to him and buries his head in it, rubbing against it as the accumulated sadness pours out of him. Then, emotionally spent, in panel 14 there is nothing left but the gratitude Dumbo feels for being with her.

This is a bravura piece of animation. The way in which Tytla animates Dumbo losing control contains great emotional truth and, for me, is what elevates this shot to a level few other shots (or animators) can match.

When it is time to leave, their trunks maintain contact for as long as possible. That touch is central to their relationship and once their contact is broken, Dumbo is once again vulnerable in a cruel world.

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