Bill Plympton and Pat Smith Argue About Pink Elephants

Scribble Junkies, the new commentary blog by animators Bill Plympton and Pat Smith, is heating up. Yesterday, Bill posted about why he thinks the “Pink Elephants on Parade” sequence in Dumbo is the “weakest point” of the film. Today, Pat followed up with an entry about why that sequence is “the single most influential piece of animation” that he’s seen. It’s fun seeing two solid animators duke it out over a classic piece of animation that we normally take for granted.


  • Ben

    Wow. “Drawn by high school kids” is a little harsh. I’m kind of in the middle. I find “Heffalumps and Woozles” to be a lot more memorable.

  • Trevor

    Its pretty plain to see they’re both correct in their general statements. The sequence did not drive the story in any meaningful way, but for animation it did everything in its experimentation.

    The reason the elephants don’t look so good (and many other parts of the film) is because of WWII. Good animators sent off to fight the good fight, Dumbo continued production.

    No matter what your opinion on it, there is something to learn and opportunities for growth in studying it.

  • Isaac

    Don’t forget the animators’ strike, Trevor.

  • http://goldenagecartoons.com Matthew Hunter

    I think it’s great. It makes me wish Disney got that experimental more often. It’s creepy, but great. And I have to agree with Ben…“Heffalumps and Woozles” was a better take on the idea, though obviously inspired by it.

  • Skip

    I disagree with Trevors comment. about the pink elephant sequence not driving the story in a meaningful way. In the morning after Dumbo and Timothy wake from the pink elephant dream, they wake up in a tree, where they are greeted by the crows who convince timothy that Dumbo can fly. That is the moment when Timothy and Dumbo discover what the purpose was for Dumbo’s large ears. Dumbo was such a timid character that he probably would not have discovered that he could fly if not by accident. The scene it self is at the very least entertaining, and adds artistic contrast to the film. Also I doubt that Walt would have allowed a five minute meaningless scene to be included in a feature. I stand by Walt Disney’s judgment.

  • Brian

    You’ve got to be kidding. Plympton criticizing “Pink Elephants”?

    “Drawn by high school kids”?

    He’s waayyyyy off base here. This is like Limp Bizkit criticizing The Beatles. I respect Plympton’s work ethic and DIY ‘tude, but his own artwork is, uhhh, not good (to put it lightly). I can’t look at a Plympton film without cringing.

    This scene is the single reason why Dumbo is a genius film, rather than merely a great one.

  • Peter H

    It’s a dream – an hallucination! It HAS to be stylistically different from Dumbo’s “real” world. So they designed a simpler, more cartoony version of an elephant. It isn’t bad drawing, it’s UNREALISTIC drawing! The sequence works BRILLIANTLY to bridge the ‘getting drunk’ scene and the ‘waking up the morning after’ scene. From beginning as metamorphosing bubbles to ending by dwindling into clouds the sequence carries us into an unreal place, a nightmare, and then gently returns us to reality. It is pretty imaginative as well, and very entertaining.

    What does Plympton want??

  • purin

    Speaking as a former toddler who demanded to watch this movie on cassette pretty much daily, I’d have to say the sequence is definitely a punctuation mark, if not a mini-climax of the movie.
    My adult self recognizes it’s kind of screwed up and pointless. My kid self (who always watched her movies in silence with a slightly agape mouth) looks forward to the nonsensical nature and candy colors against black. Then again, The Three Caballeros was also regular fare for my childhood self (that movie just isn’t the same for my adult self…).

    I don’t think this movie, still one of my favorites, would have been nearly as fun without this bit of craziness to it.

    I think that Heffalumps and Woozles is weak compared to Pink Elephants. It’s too literal, and not nearly as dramatic.

  • Russell H

    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?

  • Mr. James

    If life long impressions left on the human psyche is any indication of greatness then this sequence is animation GOLD!

    This piece of film scared the living bejeezus out of me and it still kind of creeps me out to this day. I almost couldn’t watch the whole clip. The music, those dead eye-holed elephants, the creepy physics of the whole sequence. It’s awful for kids…the awfully cool for adults.

  • Gobo

    I love Pat’s comment, “I can’t imagine why he doesn’t like it… maybe because it wasn’t animated on 6′s?” ..ouch!

    I respect Bill Plympton a lot, but he’s not looking at the scene in historical context very well. For a 70 year old sequence, this holds up amazingly well, and that’s a testament to its creativity. As much as I love Dumbo, there’s plenty of other parts of the film that haven’t aged as well… crows anyone?

  • http://www.segaltoons.com/ Steve Segal

    I love the unrestrained imagination in this sequence. The looseness is part of its charm, if Milt Kahl had drawn the elephants it wouldn’t have improved it.

  • Dave

    “Drawn by high school kids”?

    Wow.

    Glass houses, Bill, glass houses.

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    It’s my favorite part of DUMBO. It’s the only part I bother to watch any more. The rest of the cartoon is a fond childhood memory, but it doesn’t grab me these days.

    I like Plympton’s short cartoons a lot, but I don’t understand his criticism of the best part of DUMBO.

  • http://partyformyenemies.blogspot.com skid

    As a kid that was my favorite part of the movie!

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com Elliot Cowan

    I should like to say that anyone is quite entitled to disagree with Bill P, but anyone who’s suggesting that his ability to draw and animate is anything less than remarkable really is a complete and total idiot.

  • http://nocturnusstudios.blogspot.com Nick

    Both have solid points but I have to say the “Baby of Mine” sequence is the films absolute pinnacle. Pink Elephants is fun but it’s not as powerful as the humble “Baby of Mine” sequence.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/ariville/ Ariel

    Bill’s drawing is great (*i don’t know what people are on) Though sometimes his films do put me to sleep. That’s my only negative.

    This Dumbo sequence is being over-critisized. And I’m sure the animators who worked on it (*who were not in the war or strike) were MORE than capable of producing a fun and childlike gem-of-a-film like Dumbo. And they did it!

  • Ed Thompson

    As an over-all movie, I always was kind of indifferent to Dumbo, except for the Pink Elephants part. It’s strange, it’s different and it’s really really really weird. It’s also fun. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but if put to a vote, Pympton would lose this one.

  • Justin Spurlin

    “The Pink Elephants on Parade” is my favorite scene in a movie with an embarrassment of riches. But when I was a kid, it bored me. The story does indeed stop dead in order to provide the audience with a wild, and irrelevant, flight of fancy.

  • http://elblogderg.blogspot.com Roberto

    How could it be more imaginative, surreal or wacky? I mean, it’s a Disney movie, not Bob Clampett, and it’s still pretty surreal. I love Plympton’s work, but I can’t see what’s not to like here. I would like to see “bad drawings” like this in every nes animated movie!

  • Paul K.

    I’m siding with Bill Plympton; there’s a noticeable drop in the drawing quality when the figments start parading around. Watch the initial transition from the hallucinations to the reaction shots. Notice how flat the elephants appear as they march in front of Dumbo. Sloppy construction and floaty movements cannot be glossed over with bright colors and be deemed “experimental.”

  • Dr. O

    Wow, I still get goose bumps and feel uncomfortable when watching that sequence. It’s still the same feeling as I had when watching it the first time as a kid.
    It’s no doubt one of the most intense animations ever! Insane job!!! The contrast to the rest of the movie is what makes dumbo one of the most progressive films disney ever made (in a good sense!).

  • Wayne L.

    oh amid. you just LOVE controversy don’t you?

    You’re like the TMZ of the animation world.
    I can’t wait to read your best and worst dressed list for the Annies.

  • http://kerrisportfolio.blogspot.com/ Kerri

    That’s not a bad idea Wayne lol.

  • http://kirbydream.com/ Leirin

    Is he joking? “high-school kids” drew it, seriously? Come on, this was the early forties, that animation was MIND-BLOWINGLY impressive, and heck, I still think it’s really impressive simply because this was before there were computers to help out. It all came from the artist’s vision… and their hands! “Dumbo” is a gem of a film, one of my favorite movies — and certainly one of the greatest and most underrappreciated of Disney classics in favor of the Renaissance. It’s haunting, wild, fun, freakin’ creepy and if anything, it teaches kids NOT to start drinking, which some parents thought it was ENCOURAGING.

    The sequence has actually been a big inspiration to me since I’m interested in animation. For him to trash it like that, is despicable…

  • http://elblogderg.blogspot.com Roberto

    >>I’m siding with Bill Plympton; there’s a noticeable drop in the drawing quality when the figments start parading around. Watch the initial transition from the hallucinations to the reaction shots. Notice how flat the elephants appear as they march in front of Dumbo. Sloppy construction and floaty movements cannot be glossed over with bright colors and be deemed “experimental.”>>

    I don’t know what are you talking about. The animation is really good, it’s just less realistic and yes, maybe a little more “flat” or less solid than Dumbo’s. Even with less bright color the elephants would still look funny and well drawn. They are simpler than Dumbo, but that´s the point. If you think those are bad because they are a little simpler and more loose than Dumbo’s animation then I guess you could also look at some old Looney Tunes and criticisize some frames cause they didn’t take such a realistic approach and they sometimes didn’t have so much money or were more concentrated in being funny instead of extremely solid or real (though they still had some very solid animation in parts).

  • http://www.cartoonnetwork.com/ Funny Boy At Home

    “You’re like the TMZ of the animation world”

    If that were true, we’d see pictures here of Nina Paley drunkenly decanting from a limo – with her balls out.

  • mrscriblam

    “I respect Plympton’s work ethic and DIY ‘tude, but his own artwork is, uhhh, not good (to put it lightly). I can’t look at a Plympton film without cringing.”

    wowie

    i think bill’s art is the best part of his films

    its very expressive and deranged

  • Keith

    Both Plympton and Smith are accomplished artists; their opinions are valuable and offer unique insight. It would be great to have other animators to comment on this same sequence.

  • Dan

    I’d like to see Bill do any better!

  • Dr. Truth

    Bill Plympton is a “solid animator?”

    Sure, he makes nice solid and dimensional DRAWINGS that technically animate when played in a sequence but I wouldn’t exactly call him a solid animator.

    I can’t remember the last time I saw his work exhibit a breakdown pose or show advanced timing/spacing. (Yes, he’s great at long pauses and holds before a gag, but that’s about it.) His spacing between drawings/poses during his characters movements are pretty similar.

    I also find it funny to know that he calls it the weakest point in the film when his own feature films are non-stop weak points.

    Bill does cute gags, and short films, but is incapable of telling a feature length story of ANY substance.

    Having him critique a short musical sequence, one of the most well known sequences in Disney’s history, as being a weak point shows his folly. It seems as if his whole issue is with the drawing style and that it doesn’t get crazy and psychedelic enough. Bill, want to think about this movie in context of when it was made?

    Bill suggests that the Elephants should have been drawn in the style of Mckay of Kley. Um, yeah… that would have really meshed with the design of the rest of the film a lot. Good eye Bill (*note sarcasm). And with the technology they were using, hell, they would still be inking all those lines onto the cells today!

    You would think that someone who has made a career out of one singular drawing style would appreciate consistency of design within a movie.

    Bill doesn’t like anything but his own work. I’ve seen him talk far to often. Apparently he revolutionized the animation industry when he animated a face morphing around on 5′s. Just because you turn down a job to work at Disney doesn’t mean you know anything about animation. Bill couldn’t in-between his way through a real scene if had had too.