Saturday, 9 January 2010

A closer look at... a single line from Walt Disney's Dumbo

"Look Out For Mr Stork", the opening song of the Walt Disney classic Dumbo, with lyrics by Ned Washington and music by Frank Churchill and/or Oliver Wallace.

You know, I wonder how much we can understand about the Disney "style" by looking at one of the lines: "Remember those quintuplets, or the woman in the shoe?" (1:37 - 1:41 on the video and oddly not subtitled).

"Those quintuplets" presumably refers to the Dionne quintuplets - the Wikipedia entry certainly thinks so at least. I probably have the commentaries on the Looney Tunes Golden Collections to thank for figuring that out. The cartoon "Baby Bottleneck" (Bob Clampett, 1946), in which Porky and Daffy have to help out the "overworked stork", features a scene where Daffy is answering phone requests, and at one point replies, in a shocked tone, "Mr Dionne, please!" Clampett obviously realised that at least some of the audience would understand that Dionne = unusual amount of childbirth.

Dumbo doesn't get so specific, but refers to "those quintuplets", almost like "Oh, yeah, I remember reading something about a set of quintuplets in the news once" and this reference is immediately followed by a reference to a nursery rhyme, which is also about an unusual amount of children.

There's a couple of ways to interpret this, neither of which is necessarily right:
Disney (as a company) wanted to prove it was "with the times" by including a fairly topical reference, albeit a very non-specific one, then, having exhausted that attempt, fell back on the more comfortably familiar world of nursery rhymes.
The lyricist wanted to include a fairly topical reference, but some higher authority at the studio prefered that the film remain "timeless" (kind of like how Disney didn't want the vultures in The Jungle Book to be a rock'n'roll group because he thought that style of music wouldn't last very long) and so insisted he downplay the specificity of the reference and immediately follow it up with the kind of reference that the studio had become more familiar for.

There's probably plenty of evidence against either theory, but I do find that line an interesting example of opposing directions at the Disney studio.

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