FilmHenson1

THE BIG TOP

There’s a large-scale number toward the beginning of DUMBO entitled “Song of the Roustabouts” and it’s all about the huuuuuuuuge effort that goes into building “the big top” – setting everything up when the circus comes to town. It’s about how every stake that holds the giant tent up takes a ton of precision and labor to put into place.

Later in the film, when Dumbo fumbles up the elephants’ circus routine, his mistake causes chaos and sends the entire big top crashing to the ground. All the effort made to setup the circus goes metaphorically down the toilet.

As audience members, we need to see all the painstaking work it takes for the big top to be set up, so we understand and feel what a blunder it is when it comes toppling to the ground.

We need to see all the effort the little mice put into sewing a new dress for Cinderella to wear to the ball… so we can gasp and clutch our chest when that dress is ripped to shreds.

We need to know how much Rapunzel wants to leave that tiny little room at the top of the tower, so that we feel her anguish and despair when Mother Gothel tells her that she is forbidden to leave the tower… ever.

All of this is to say that in the game of effective storytelling, things need to be set up for us, so that we appreciate their magnitude when they come back later in the story.

Pay-offs of both the positive and negative sort pack much more of a punch when they are effectively laid into place and built-up (like a big top) beforehand.