Pink Elephants on Parade and other Dumbo Musings
with Ashley Goodwin
[Transcriber note: The punctuation in this transcript is less structured than other transcripts because it's a conversation. Unscripted conversations are harder to create methodized sentence structure, but I've done my best.]
Jen: Hi there! This is Jen from Oof! Right in the Childhood, and today, I have something very special and different for you!
Jen: You know how I mentioned on Monday’s episode that the Pink Elephants on Parade sequence needed its own psychological breakdown? Well, when I wrote that episode, I forgot that I actually have a psychology major of my very own, right here in town. So today, I’m here with my good friend Ashley to talk about the psychological implications of Pink Elephants on Parade and other Dumbo musings. Ashley, why don’t you say hi to the folks and tell them a little bit about your background?
Ashley: Hey I’m Ashley. I do have a degree in Psychology. Most of my research was based on PTSD and trauma responses. I’m also an avid reader and connoisseur of knowledge, but only for obscure and irrelevant topics.
Jen: And it's my understanding. We just watched Dumbo, and that's the first time you've ever watched Dumbo?
Ashley: I think so. I might have watched it once when I was really little. And I do remember like going to Disneyland as a kid and stuff and going on the rides and everything. But I don't have any recollection of watching it at any point. I feel like I would have probably remembered that movie if I had seen it before.
Jen: So do you ever remember anyone talking about the movie around you, or did you have any expectations going into it?
Ashley: Not from that one or from childhood I am a huge Tim Burton fan so I mean I remember a couple years ago or last year or whenever it was when the Dumbo movie of his came out. I also haven't actually seen that one yet but I remember people talking about it from that but other than that that was really my only knowledge about Dumbo.
Jen: Okay. And what did you think of the movie overall before we get into more like specific things?
Ashley: It was definitely good from, like a cartoon, Disney perspective. It was really really dark and sad, and I also wanted to drink like Dumbo. So [Jen laughs] you know [Ashley laughs].
Jen: One of the things that I mentioned in the History part of my episode is that one of the critics at the time referred to this as the nicest kindest Disney movie yet. Do you agree with her?
Ashley: I mean it could be the nicest and kindest if you slept through it and didn't watch any of it. [Jen laughs]. Or if you were a bully and had a bully mentality and decided it was good to treat people like that. But I feel like those people are also the people who liked the rest of the reindeer in Rudolph, so [Jen laughs] you know [Ashley laughs].
Jen: So I wanted to hear all of your impressions and I'll just let you talk and I'll ask clarifying questions as we go.
Ashley: Alright so first a little bit about the scene. In the scene of the flying elephants. It comes at a dark time for Dumbo, and he goes to drink out of this thing that ends up being champagne mixed with water, so it played on the whole he's kind of drunk and it's kind of interesting because the idiom seeing pink elephants actually has been an idiom since about 1905 is when elephants became the dominant animal within that idiom before this it had been a lot of random animals and there was no real idiom about it. And then in about 1905 it became elephants. It's also kinda interesting because there is actually pink elephants in the world a lot of albino elephants will actually appear pink which is kind of terrifying but really cool.
Jen: So what you're saying is like so has it always been pink? Is it wasn't like pink snakes? Or did it just become it was just you saw snakes when you were drunk and then it became elephants and then it became Pink Elephants or how does that work or do you know?
Ashley: from my research it looked like it had always been a colour, so one referenced like a blue snakes and pink elephants. It was I think the idea of it more was that you were hallucinating things that were different, so like a blue snake or pink elephant or like things that you wouldn't normally see in the world. I'm also pretty sure that they didn't have the knowledge of pink elephants being real especially in places where there isn't elephants and with albino elephants being extremely, extremely rare to begin with but it was more just that hallucination it was the like how children will colour animals on colouring sheets different colours or they'll colour things weird and it it almost has like dream-like hallucination kind of feel to it that was kind of the idea behind it and then it kind of became pink elephants being the main one that everyone knows now and got still said about being drunk and also sometimes used for drug use and other hallucinations. But definitely predominately is about being drunk. It's kinda interesting that they could use this with the pink elephants and because Dumbo's an elephant it fit in really well with the champagne.
Ashley: So back to the actual scene itself the scene is really kind of weird in the context of Disney at the time and in the context of the movie itself. It is I don't know if you talk about this in the history of it, but it is one of the weirdest scenes that they done pretty much until like you were saying Fantasia.
Jen [overlapping]: Well, Fantasia was before this, actually.
Ashley: Fantasia 2000.
Jen: Oh Fantasia 2000. I thought we were talking about 1940 Fantasia.
Ashley: [unintelligible overlap]
Ashley: It was a very out there scene compared to what scenes were in a lot of his movies it was very different it was very had that kind of hallucination Alice-in-Wonderland kind of feel to it. And it had a really it started really upbeat and stuff and then get super dark and it seems in the movie like it it's just kind of placed there as a filler weird kind of thing going on. I watch it I actually think it-it almost plays a very vital role in switching the context of the movie and flipping it from what it was to what it is at the end by doing that they were able to show kind of how Dumbo reacted to his traumas. So the fact that he was taken away from his mom; the fact that he was bullied, and everything else. He starts out really happy when he gets drunk and we see this all the time in normal people getting drunk too. They start really happy and everything and then they get a little bit too drunk they get that depression — and the — because alcohol is a depressant. You kind of got that like dark, and if you've been through trauma or you have trauma in your history or you're thinking about trauma, or things are happening in your life right then, you get this darker view of things all of a sudden and you kind of get into that like negative headspace. And that's kind of what it does for Dumbo he's really excited at the beginning it's a lot of fun and kind of being drunk on champagne and he's blowing the bubbles and everything and then one of the bubbles blows up and explodes into this super kind of upbeat music but dark themes of his trauma and and these kind of scary things that are happening to him until he falls asleep and wakes up in the tree.
Ashley: After he wakes up it's interesting because the colours in the movie get a little bit brighter and which is kind of cool cuz it it's kind of that after he's dealt with his trauma little bit he's accepted it he's had that outside view of his trauma and then he's able to move on a little bit with the help of the crows and with the help of the mouse and everything to learn to fly and to be successful and-and it really has his upturn in the movie of he gets his mom her own car-train car he is able to fly he's the star of the show now he's respected he has all these things because he was able to deal with the trauma and he wasn't letting his trauma be a negative thing for him anymore. It wasn't holding him back like it had been at the beginning. And up until about that point. So I'm not saying that you should go and get drunk to deal with your trauma—
Jen: [interrupting] Oh, that's absolutely what I heard. [Ashley laughs] Like everyone heard that.
Ashley: [overlapping] Absolutely.
Ashley: But having that Outsider perspective of — I mean this is almost the Forties version of therapy — of going in and addressing your traumas and seeing him from an outside perspective allows you to move on and kind of not be defined by the trauma. Learn from it, absolutely. Do what you can to help other people who are dealing with that trauma. Some days you're still going to have a bad day and that trauma might come back but it's about moving forward constantly and doing what you need to do to be able to kind of address the trauma that you've been through and move on from it and not let it negatively define your whole life. Cuz I mean everybody's going to go through some sort of trauma of whatever scale. Something traumatic is going to happen to every single person, it's just the world. I mean we're going to all those COVID stuff right now that's going to be a huge trauma, for a lot of people. Everyone go through things but you kind of choose if you're going to let it define you or if you're going to move on from it and like Dumbo kind of be successful and-and get all of the things that you wanted that you couldn't necessarily do when you were mentally unhealthy your or in that more negative headspace
Jen: Makes a ton of sense. We talked a little bit — you and me — about how this scene was made, and-and that it was just like. I don't know why this thing was there either. I kind of like your idea that it's the method of flipping the script for-for Dumbo and they just didn't have a really good transition from one side to the other. I mean, the movie's already only an hour and 4 minutes long. And the sequence itself is two minutes long, so it's very possible that they were like, "You know what we need? Two minutes of weirdness!"
Jen: I was reading up about it. One the Disney animators was O'Connor and he created a whole new method of animation for this one sequence. Disney was like, "Hey, save some money," and he's like, "Yeah, I'm going to do that by creating a new way to animate stuff. Cool."
Jen: But I do like that idea that it's kind of the flipping of the script. I'd never really thought about the fact that Dumbo gets drunk and then all of a sudden everything is fine. I also think that might not be something we want to teach children. "Just get drunk, it'll be fine!" We did a little bit about how the water was super green and bubbly, and I would like to know what kind of champagne does that?
Ashley: Yeah. It definitely is questionable to teach kids just to get drunk, but when we-yeah it's really interesting because looking at PTSD research from that time period after World War I we kind of knew about Shell Shock, but didn't really take it seriously still. We really only took it seriously in-in veterans. And then World War II came along, and we still didn't really know very much about it. But what we did know is that a lot — even a lot of us looking back at our grandparents, unfortunately — is that alcohol was used a lot to deal with PTSD. And to deal with the things they saw at war or the violence and that kind of thing. So it's not completely unrealistic that they would use alcohol with trauma. Because that — at the time in society — was the how you dealt with trauma. Like you didn't get upset, you got drunk. Or oh, well, we don't talk about that, we get drunk. Like that's— that's why alcoholism was so rampant at the time because there was so much underlying PTSD that we just didn't acknowledge. And that was kind of how it was seen as acceptable for men to deal with their problems.
Jen: Well, it was better than a lobotomy.
Ashley: Well, yes. I guess if your options are lobotomy or alcohol, choose alcohol. [Both laugh] The other kind of interesting thing — like with you saying it was glowing green, like we were both talking about — is. What was actually in that? Like why was it glowing green? Was it just kind of artistic license or something else? Or you definitely don't think about alcohol causing hallucinations all the time. But at the time, Absinthe was a thing, so maybe it was not actually champagne in there. Maybe the clowns and circus people had been having a little more fun than Disney was willing to let on [Jen chuckles] with this champagne. Who knows what else was in that champagne?
Jen: You know, I mean, this was the time you could go get tonic with cocaine in it, so who knows? [Jen laughs]
Ashley: I mean, have you seen the cleaning schedules of housewives in the Forties? I would probably need cocaine to keep up with that too.
Jen: I just want to posit an objection that we can't go get cocaine from the drugstore right now, because that feels like it could be a thing that would help a lot.
Jen: Don't worry mom, I'm not taking cocaine! I promise. [Jen laughs]
Ashley: Coca-Cola, please put coke back into your Coke.
Jen: [overlapping] Amen.
Ashley: It's 2020. We need it.
Jen: So Ashley, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.
Ashley: Yeah, thank you for having me. It was a lot of fun, and I definitely look forward to being on future episodes and hearing all of the other guest speakers that come on after me.
Jen: Yeah! I’ve actually been in touch with a few different people who want to share experiences they’ve had with Disney animated films. Sometimes, like today, we’ll talk about one specific theme and other times, we’ll just talk about the difference between watching something as a child and then again as an adult.
Jen: Guest episodes, when available, will drop into your feed on Thursdays after the main episode about that movie is scheduled. Make sure you don’t miss a single guest episode by hitting the Subscribe button on wherever you’re getting your podcasts right now. You can also get updates by following me on Social Media. I’m on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter under the username oofmychildhood.
Jen: A transcript of this episode will be available on my website, and if you check my YouTube channel, you’ll find captioned videos. I do my best to provide a transcript and video as soon as this episode is published, but if this one isn’t available yet, check my website for updates and a link to the appropriate video.
Jen: My theme music was composed and played by Shawn Rudolph of Let Music Be. For more information on that studio, you can visit their website at letmusic.be or visit my website for an easy link.
Jen: Thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you come back each week to discuss Disney through modern eyes. And while you’re at it, if you’re enjoying yourself, please let your friends know about me. I’d also appreciate a rating and review wherever you’re listening to the show. This podcast was edited by me. I release a new regular episode every Monday through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and many, many other podcatchers.
Jen: So, until next time, keep the magic alive.