- “How do you like your new job now, Cowboy?”
- ―Rufus Sorghum[src]
Rufus is shown to have a cold, harsh temper towards animals, using his whip. He shows no mercy to animals, even those that are being harmless. When it comes to Rufus discovering Mrs. Jumbo protecting her son from an angry audience, Rufus confronts her for being a mad elephant in a sadistic manner.
Role in the film
Rufus was one of the animal caretakers in the circus, but unlike his fellow co-workers, he is extremely abusive to the circus animals (mostly the elephants). He was first seen forcing the elephants to exit their box car until there was one left Mrs. Jumbo. He tried to use his whip to force her out, but Holt Farrier arrives to the scene with his kids, telling Rufus to stop. However, Rufus refuses by mocking Holt over the loss of right arm and wife Annie (who died from a flu outbreak) before trying to whip Mrs. Jumbo, provoking an angry Holt to violently punch Rufus in the face for it, humiliating him. Holt and his children soon learned that Mrs. Jumbo was acting strange because she has given birth to a new baby elephant with large ears. When Rufus finds out about this, he cruelly picks on the baby elephant's large ears to scare him for fun, but this provoked an angry Mrs. Jumbo to grab Rufus by the leg and violently throw him into a vat of water, leaving him humiliated once again.
During the circus' next performance in Missouri, the baby elephant (named Dumbo) became ridiculed by the audience after his ears are exposed to the public. Rufus (with an evil smirk) taunts Mrs. Jumbo about the incident and that she can't do anything to protect her child. This provoked an enraged Mrs. Jumbo to burst into the tent to protect her son from the audience, right before Holt tried to calm her down by assuring that no one will hurt her son. However, witnessing this and wanting to get back at both Holt and Mrs. Jumbo for humiliating him, Rufus comes out to the scene and takes out his whip, provoking Mrs. Jumbo once again to go berserk. Holt angrily orders Rufus to stop, but the latter refuses by calling Mrs. Jumbo a 'mad elephant'. This caused Mrs. Jumbo to knock over a large post, setting the tent to fall over and sending people into panic. As Rufus hides behind the bleachers laughing at everyone panicking and mocking Holt once again, he is shocked to see the post falling over to the bleachers, crushing him to death.
Rufus' corpse is last seen being carried away to the morgue by several police officers, though the entire troupe (including Max Medici) don't seem to miss him as they are disgusted by his behavior towards the elephants that caused the incident in the first place. Nevertheless, the news of Rufus' death puts the circus into the verge of a public relations problem, which forced an upset Medici to sell away Mrs. Jumbo back to her original owner Hans Brugelbecker, much to Dumbo and the troupe's dismay. Brugelecker later sold Mrs. Jumbo to V.A. Vandevere of Dreamland until she was freed by Dumbo and the troupe.
- Rufus is similar to the bully Smitty, a character from the original 1941 cartoon who was known for provoking Mrs. Jumbo by harassing Dumbo. However, Rufus is far worse as he was willing to provoke the elephants to put other people's lives in danger for his own amusement.
- Because the Tim Burton adaptation of Dumbo is based on the original film, there are certain scenes alluding to it in scenes where Rufus appears:
- The scene where Mrs. Jumbo grabs and tosses Rufus into a trough of water is a reference to the scene where Mrs. Jumbo tosses the Ringmaster into a bucket of water.
- The scene where Rufus calls Mrs. Jumbo a mad elephant and uses his whip against her is a possible homage to the classic scene where the Ringmaster summons a group of circus guards to tie up Mrs. Jumbo for causing rampage across the circus. Unlike in the original film, the Ringmaster survives while Rufus does not; it is also to note that Rufus has no other circus guards assisting him in the remake.
- There was a deleted scene where Rufus started verbally abusing the elephants to get them out of their boxcar. When Medici witnessed this, he furiously tells Rufus to go easy on the elephants and show them some respect, but Rufus refuses by mocking Medici, causing several of Rufus' co-workers to snicker. This prompted an annoyed Medici to stare at and sarcastically thank Rufus for this, implying that he strongly disapproves Rufus' behavior towards him and the elephants.