The clowns are not exactly villainous through evil or maliciousness, but more of insensitivity toward animals, most notably Dumbo, though one of the clowns does worry that their stunts might hurt the elephant. They take great pride in their jobs as comic entertainers, believing it will earn them respect from their audiences. However, they are also easily pusillanimous, reluctant, and scared, as when they see Dumbo finally flying and soaring at them, they immediately panic and run for cover, assuming he will attack them as revenge for the previous act that left him humiliated.
The clowns seem to be generally argumentative and loud-mouthed when not acting.
Role in the film
The clowns first appear during the circus parade, and start a fireman act as Dumbo's first performance as a clown. During the act, one wears an elephant mask and a dress pretending to be Dumbo's mother shouting "save my child!", and the others appear dressed as firemen, with one wearing the uniform of a fire chief. The only one that talks during the act is the "mother." They perform goofy acts such as dousing a fire with gasoline, roasting hot dogs in front of a burning building, or throwing water on a flowerbed instead of the fire. For the climax, Dumbo, who is dressed like a baby and wearing clown makeup, is made to jump from the building, where he is to land on a life net, which he is then meant to fall through and into a hidden tub of pie. He resists, but one clown sneaks up from behind him and whips him with a board. He ends up landing in the pie, much to everyone's amusement.
Following the act, the clowns are shown in their tent changing into casual clothes and celebrating with a bottle of champagne over the popular act. They believe they will earn a lot more money by making the height greater and thus more death-defying. One of the dumber but more sympathetic ones comments that they may accidentally hurt Dumbo if they make the act too extreme, only to be brushed off by two others who reply that "elephants ain’t got no feelings" and that they are "made of rubber". As they leave to tell their boss of their idea for their next act, they hit the table with their champagne bottle on it. The champagne is knocked into Dumbo's water bucket, resulting in him and Timothy Mouse getting drunk.
The clowns ultimately get their comeuppance (along with the Ringmaster) during the second act when Dumbo flies off an 18-story-tall cardboard building instead of landing in the pie. This scares them, who either take cover in water barrels (one who was standing on a ladder loses his balance and falls into the pie himself after Dumbo soars at him, the splash soaking the other four of them) or drive their fire engine into the burning building only to reemerge with scathed rear ends, screaming. They are not seen again for the rest of the film. What happens to them after the circus is renamed "Dumbo's Flying Circus" is unknown, although it is assumed that they got fired or quit their jobs.
The clowns play a similar but less antagonistic role in the 2019 remake. Following Mrs. Jumbo's rampage, Medici pairs Dumbo and Holt Farrier with the clowns. Dumbo, dressed as a firefighter, is meant to be lifted up on a firetruck ladder and spray water from his trunk to put out a fake fire (in actuality, several small propane burners which are turned off by a crew member), then save a monkey dressed as a woman. This goes horribly wrong as the mechanism for the ladder jams and the switch to turn off the fire is accidentally broken. Dumbo winds up on the top platform, leading to Milly climbing the ladder to give a feather to Dumbo due to his refusal to fly without one. This results in Milly nearly being killed after falling from the top of the building into the tub of water below. The platform then collapses, prompting Dumbo to fly, knocking over several of the clowns in the process. Dumbo becomes an overnight celebrity and the previously-failing circus makes a comeback.
The next morning, Dumbo is being bathed in his tent when Medici comes in while everyone else is celebrating. One of the clowns, still partially dressed in his costume, walks in and offers Dumbo a bottle of champagne, only for Medici to respond "No booze near the baby!"
Throughout the rest of the film, one of the clowns frequently appears out-of-costume in group shots of the Medici troupe, distinguishable by his red hair.
The Clowns appear in the videogame in the properly themed section: the player has to ruin their stunt and humiliate them in order to save Dumbo and his mother. Later they reappear in the final boss battle as the Ringmaster minions, attacking the player with thrown pies.
A clown named Bumpy was also the main character of the Dumbo minigame unlocked after the main game.
- The clowns were voiced by Billy Bletcher and Eddie Holden.
- The clowns' requests to get a raise from their boss is a reference to the Disney animators that went on strike in 1941 (during the creation of the film), demanding higher pay from Walt himself. Moreover, some of them are caricatures of those animators.
- When the clowns change out of their costumes after their act, their true appearances are revealed to be greatly exaggerated for the purpose of the clown act.
- One of them is actually comprised of two twins with dwarfism stacked on top of one another, with the bottom one hidden from view.
- One has an inflatable set of overalls to falsely make him obese.
- One of them has a “mask” over the top half of his face to exaggerate his facial features.
- Some of the clowns' voices are inconsistent. The same high squeaky voice comes out of at least three different clowns.