Freakie-Deakies Need Love, Too
Believe me, this was done on pure accident. After all, what better way to mix childhood and adulthood pleasures than by playing a drinking game to movies made by the most popular animation studio of all time? Especially now, since they seem to be heading towards another renaissance? Disney's past three animated films ("Tangled", "Wreck-it-Ralph" and newly crowned Oscar winner "Frozen") have all showcased the new life being breathed into the studio and let us know that Disney's back to writing good stories and taking chances again.
Today we're looking at the studio's fourth effort, "Dumbo", a movie made with extrodinary creativity and care. A masterwork of animation, composition and storytelling. A hotbed of racism and upholder of negative stereotypes.
"Drunk Dumbo": The Rules
Lucky for me, my handy Mixology app (available for android download) provided me with a recipe for "Pink Elephant Punch", which we used when testing this game. To make a batch, use:
1 1/2 cups of vodka
3/4 cup of amaretto
3 cups of strawberry lemonade
1 1/2 cups of coconut milk
3/4 cup of grenadine
Also, remember to shake the coconut milk can before you open it, or your punch will be filled with white blobbies. Also, don't get turned off by the pepto bismol coloring.
Or, you know...drink something else...
1. Title drops: Drink whenever someone says "Dumbo".
2. Drink when they drink.
3. Drink for Daddy Issues. No Dad in this movie. But where did he go???
4. Drink for slapstick. Definition can be found here.
5. Drink whenever you see a parent-child couple. Once per scene, no extra drinks for extra babies. I'm looking at you, tigers.
All the above rules apply. Also...
1. Drink when someone makes fun of Dumbo's ears.
2. Drink for song title drops.
All the above rules apply. Also...
1. Drink when Dumbo's ears get in the way.
Krissy Pappau: Has been humming "Casey Jones" for the past month (Medium)
Dame Poppy Middleton: Is angling to add "YOLO" mode. Straight vodka (Easy)
Some Guy: Doesn't understand why the stork is sending so many babies to Florida (Easy)
Big Moose: Just wants Dumbo to be happy (Medium)
Champjagne Austgin: Thinks Sterling Halloway is an upstanding name (Medium)
Levi: Judges the lady elephants hardcore (Medium)
DJ: Once saw an elephant fly. He was tripping pretty bad. (Hard)
Disco Sheriff: Never saw Dumbo before and will probably never see it again (Hard)
What a Difference Half a Century Makes
Compare Dumbo to Disney movies made even a few years later, and you'll notice that it doesn't use many of the tropes we've come to associate with the company. There's no mention of royalty. The main character never speaks. It's a movie with animals and humans, but the two don't interact in a way that's out of the ordinary. It doesn't really have a plot until the last fifteen minutes of the movie. In that way, it's much more about the journey than the destination.
There were certain things that struck us about Dumbo, though, that rarely if ever appear in later Disney films. First, the "villain" of the film isn't a power-hungry baddie or a witch seeking revenge. It's society.
Some of the first characters we're introduced to in the film are a group of catty lady elephants that lead the troupe, in particular an older, somewhat matriarchal elephant.
"Oh, I remember her!" Champjagne said immediately upon seeing her. "She's a cunt!"
Compare these two songs. Here's the Oscar winning number from Disney's newest hit.
Now here's the Oscar winning song from Dumbo.
It's pretty unfair to compare "Let it Go" to "Baby Mine" (and this is not the last unfair comparison I'll make in this article), but these songs are indicative of the times in which they were written. Dumbo's score shines much more than its lyrics, and most of the songs are stand-alone pieces. Dumbo, having made before the "book musical" became standard, isn't structured around the songs. It's a movie with music and songs in it. Frozen, on the other hand, is an example of the contemporary Broadway standard, and that's what Disney's made money off of for the past two decades. They're interested in telling character-driven melodramas for young people. Slice-of-life pieces like Dumbo are probably a thing of the past.
This isn't bad or good. It's just the way things are. But then again, this more straight-forward storytelling style leaves little room for experimentation. And, strangely enough, that's what early Disney was all about.
Drunk Watching Drunk
Man, watching this scene when you're an adult is a trip. I don't remember what I thought of it as a child, but it remains burnt in my brain to this day. Looking at it now, there's a few things I can say for certain.
1. Alcohol doesn't do that. Or it's not supposed to do that. The clowns must have spiked their champagne with something for Dumbo to have that sort of reaction. Or maybe this just how elephants experience getting totally sloshed?
3. This scene is BEAUTIFULLY animated. The constant shifting of styles, the surrealist imagery, the shading...it's all stunning.
We were stumped until Levi said the word "Heffalumps".
This scene is much later in the movie than you think it is. Dumbo's only an hour long to begin with, and there's only two scenes after "Pink Elephants". Not much happens before then, so I guess there's really not much more to talk abou-
I must admit, half the reason I'm so late getting this article out (aside from life and stuff) is because I do NOT want to write about these crows. But I feel like I have to. When I told people I was making a Dumbo drinking game, nine times out of ten I'd get the response "Oh! The movie with the racist crows!" Most people who watched the movie with me were startled to realize that the crows don't even show up until ten minutes till the end. They feel like so much more of the movie.
Part of that is that the crows bring the plot. Dumbo does not do ANYTHING important until they show up. Sad things happen TO him, people do things FOR him, but he's a relatively passive character. Along with Timothy Q Mouse, the crows help Dumbo realize he can fly. And they're the only characters who show any kind of sympathy towards his situation, being birds living on the edge of society.
But it's difficult to get past the blatantly stereotypical characterization. The way the crows talk, the way they dress, the fact that they smoke cigars and nobody else in the film does...it leaves a modern audience feeling uncomfortable. MORE than uncomfortable. I asked my friends to watch the crows for thirty seconds without saying a word. They could not.
Hell, see how far you get without feeling offended.
This does not EXCUSE using stereotypes in film, and I'm not saying anybody should. But it seems useful to place stereotypes in a context so that we can learn from them, see what they do and mark their influence across decades. Because these crows are influential. As recently as 2001, a new children's animated classic about discrimination paid homage to Dumbo.
But looking critically at Donkey's role in the movie, he's a high-energy, sort of stupid, VERY annoying sidekick character who exists to guide the main character along the right path. He has his own wants and needs, yes, but when you get down to it he's comic relief. Donkey never gets his own movie (yet Antonio Banderas as Puss N' Boots DOES). And he's a donkey. An animal bred to pull carts and do work for humans.
I'm not sure I have a solution here, but stereotype in film is definitely something to take notice of. I only mean to say that people should examine it with a critical eye. It's not enough to call something "racist" without acknowledging its context and what it is trying to achieve.
Unless we're talking about "Song of the Roustabouts". Dats racist.
We had a second, secret set of rules we were playing with as well. For Your Inebriation has a new goal: to develop the ultimate Disney drinking game, to be used with any of their animated features. We had some mixed results with Dumbo, as it's a very atypical Disney movie, but here were some of the more effective rules:
Drink when one or both of the main character's parents are killed off.
You can also drink if they're conspicuously missing. Dumbo is named "Jumbo Jr" after his father. But there's no sign of Jumbo. Or any other male elephant for that matter.
Drink when someone sings about or mentions a dream.
There's a scene where Timothy Mouse talks to the ring master while he's sleeping, posing as his "subconcious mind". It's a bit of a stretch, but you can drink for that.
Drink when a magical artifact is found or used.
Poison apple, magic wand, magic mirror...or even an object that's not really "magic" but helps the character through a trial. Like Dumbo's feather.
For Your Inebriation is written by Krissy Pappau (Hollis Beck). Video footage is taken by Poppy Middleton (Grace Glass) and edited by Seb (Amy Yourd). All "Dumbo" images are owned by Disney.