Saturday, 9 January 2010


So! For anyone who doesn't know, I've been working in Disneyland Paris for the past ten months or so, and since I've finally left the place, I can't stop humming Disney songs every three minutes wherever I go. Call this my way of exorcising them - for the next ten days, I'm gonna draw a list of the ten best songs in the Disney canon. With commentaries, obviously, otherwise I would not be I.

Oi begorrah! To begin with, then!

Film: DUMBO.

Link to the song

Why not start with Dumbo. The gist of this song is that Dumbo gets out of the circus and presents himself to these crows, but they do not believe he can fly. The song might be a little higher up in this list if it weren’t so friggin’ racist. Of course that serves to make the song more poignant – the point is that, scorned by the dominant social classes, Dumbo turns to the minorities (the crows, who are so patently a travesty of black Americans that I wouldn’t be surprised if they started rapping). Yet even the minorities reject him, and the song emphasises his solitude as a phenomenon of the stage (in fact it closes on an image of the little elephant being sad, which come to think of it is really depressing. Fuckin’ ‘ell, now I’m getting depressed just by writing this!).

The song is very cleverly executed, built as it is entirely on puns, and there is a certain suggestion that seeing ‘an elephant fly’ is itself a pun (meaning, a ‘gigantic fly’). Or at least, it is a phrase struggling to become a pun (like Dumbo is struggling to be accepted) against the resistance of linguistic construction. So the point would be that ‘I been done seeing about everything’ when language (or the rules of language) are transcended and meaning is achieved at its margins, by breaking rather than respecting its rules. This suggests an interest in the tension between the ossification and renovation of meaning in language (and its parallel with the social acceptance of individuals within a codified society), but the song never explores this theme in real depth, and its point ultimately remains suggestive rather than illuminating. This, alongside the racism, is what leaves it down in the tenth place, without escalating any further up.

I need a beer.


Mory said...

Dumbo is a really depressing movie in general. It's about the circus, and has all the bright colors you'd expect, but it really paints an ugly picture of show business. What other animated movie has the main characters get so sad that they get drunk to the point of hallucination?

Come to think of it, I wonder how much of the movie's tone was brought on by how Disney's masterpiece Fantasia (released a year earlier) was unappreciated by the public.

John Silver said...

Yeah, fights with Bambi for most heartbreaking Disney film. But are you serious about that Fantasia stuff? I mean, do you think the bad sales made them so depressed that they went and made a depressing movie? (I guess it stands for revenge, among other things).

Mory said...

I was speaking about Walt Disney in particular, who was surely depressed after Fantasia flopped. Fantasia wasn't just a movie for him, it was the future of animation. He wanted animation to be a high-class art, not a light diversion for the masses. He had stereo sound invented for that movie, he pushed animation farther than it had ever gone before in many ways, he planned to have the movie keep playing and changing forever. Plus, it was a way to get people to listen to classical music. Also, keep in mind that Dumbo was a small and simple movie precisely because after Fantasia, the company didn't have the money for anything big anymore. So yeah, I figure Disney must have been pretty depressed about entertainment at that point. Wouldn't you be?