To vote in this lineup, scroll to the poll at the bottom of the page, then head back to the bracket to see all of round two of The Best Pop Culture Dream Sequence, The A.V. Club’s no-holds-barred competition to see which dream sequence from TV or film deserves the title, “Greatest Of All Time.”
Not even in his dreams can Dumbo escape from his fellow pachyderms. During the film’s most ambitious, memorable sequence, the distraught little elephant and his mouse friend accidentally chug a bunch of champagne and have an alcohol-induced hallucination. They envision a parade of technicolor elephants, all of them marching along and using their trunks to play their song. The rubbery beasts fill the screen until Dumbo is out of the picture, and over the next three minutes, the movie abandons reality for a kooky musical number. The first phase ditches the marching band in favor of weirder and weirder sights—elephants whose trunks are the serpentine bodies of other elephants, an elephant that’s made of elephant heads. From there, the song twists through various musical styles and the dancing animals shape-shift along with it until the final salsa-inspired stretch devolves into a cacophonous sensory overload and Dumbo settles into a quiet drunken slumber. A trippy reflection of Dumbo’s depression and treatment at the trunks of his peers, “Pink Elephants On Parade” is a daring, much needed chunk of surreality in an otherwise sedate Disney tale.
Dreams are the garbage soup of the subconscious. They take everything we’ve been mentally chewing on for the previous few hours, days, or even weeks, and make something new out of the combination. Joel and Ethan Coen acknowledged as much in one of the most celebrated sequences in one of their most celebrated movies, the 1998 Raymond Chandler spoof The Big Lebowski. About midway through, hapless stoner sleuth Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) does what movie detectives (even the inadvertent kind) are expected to do: He gets knocked unconscious. This allows Joel and Ethan, ever the whip-smart film brats, to put their own eccentric spin on the classic noir trope of the dream sequence. True to the way brains often function, this delirious set-piece—framed like a spectacular adult movie, staged like a Busby Berkeley musical number—mashes together recent events of The Dude’s life, from his dalliance with an avant-garde artist (Julianne Moore) to his impending bowling tournament to the Iraqi dictator he regularly glimpses on television. The dream then becomes a nightmare, as castrating anarchists kill the good-times vibe set by Kenny Rogers & The First Edition. It’s an unforgettable expression of the way the human mind turns daily problems into surreal art—even if our own dreams rarely boast such a killer soundtrack or elaborate choreography.