The Crows are supporting characters in Disney’s 1941 animated feature film, Dumbo. They are a flock of wisecracking crows that Timothy Q. Mouse and Dumbo meet on their travels. Upon hearing of Dumbo's plight, the crows become the baby elephant’s mentors and father figures, and assist in the rescue of his mother by teaching Dumbo how to fly.
Jim Crow, also known as Dandy Crow (voiced by Cliff Edwards), is the classy, cigar-smoking leader of the flock. Donning his signature vest, spats, and derby hat, Jim carries himself with a self-assured flair. He has a commanding presence and does most of the talking amongst the group. He is intelligent, being learned in the field of psychology. He is also implied to be well-traveled, as "When I See an Elephant Fly" alludes to a colorful history.
Fats (voiced by James Baskett) gets his name from his rotund appearance. Donning an open-front red vest and blue hat, Fats speaks in a baritone and has a jolly deposition. He is not particularly smart, as he was unsure as to whether or not dead people can snore.
The refined Deacon (voiced by Hall Johnson) gets his name from his attire, which resembles that of a church deacon. He is the tallest of the crows and is often seen with his wings firmly tucked behind his back.
Dopey (voiced by Jim Carmichael) lives up to his namesake with his sloppy posture and clothing—his signature ensemble includes a yellow hat with a missing top, which is held up by his beak.
Specks (voiced by Nick Stewart) is the shortest of the crows, named for his oversized, pink-lensed glasses. His small size makes him the frequent butt of several jokes. He has a childlike deposition, as he is zestful and often looks to the other crows to cure his curiosity as a child would to their elders.
In the original story treatment for Dumbo by Joe Grant and Dick Huemer featured a "large, rusty-looking crow" that Dumbo and Timothy encountered in their adventure. This was later expanded to a flock of crows. Ward Kimball, one of Disney's most illustrious animators, supervised the crows. As was the case with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, live-action models were used to assist in animating the crows. In this case, Freddy and Eugene Jackson (also known as the "Jackson Brothers") were called into the studio. The Jacksons were a song-and-dance team, famous for their vaudeville and film work. They provided Kimball with various routines that would be used during the "When I See an Elephant Fly" sequence.
The personalities and mannerisms of the crows—specifically their fast-paced, back and fourth dialogue—were inspired by the backchat found in the band records of African Americans artists of the time, such as Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong. The crows were also inspired by African Americans on a deeper level; according to animation historian, John Canemaker, the crows sympathize with Dumbo's plight, as they are also an alienated group, ostracized because of their physical being. As such, the Hall Johnson Choir, an all-black group, provided the voices for Fats, Deacon, Dopey, and Specks. Jim, the leader of the crows, was voiced by Cliff Edwards, who made a name for himself in the Disney family for voicing Jiminy Cricket in 1940's Pinocchio—another character animated by Kimball. According to Kimball, part of the casting was Edwards's ability to imitate musical instruments. Kimball was also adamant that the crows were differentiated characters with unique personalities. In the case of Jim, Kimball envisioned the character as "the big, dominating boss crow with a derby".
The crows first appear in the woods where they spot Dumbo and Timothy sleeping in their tree. Fats, Deacon, Dopey, and Specks are utterly confused at the sight, and so their leader, Jim Crow, flies down to investigate. Jim wakes up Timothy with his smoking. The minute Timothy mentions "pink elephants", Jim and the crows fall into a knowing fit of laughter. Timothy remains too dazed to realize his predicament, until Jim notes that the former and an elephant are in a tree. Upon noticing, Timothy and Dumbo plummet into a pond, garnering more laughs from the crows. As Timothy, thinking out loud, wonders how they ended up in the tree, Jim jokingly suggests they flew. After a moment of thought, Timothy believes it and deduces that Dumbo used his giant ears to fly. The crows laugh at Timothy's wild theory, and start to sing "When I See an Elephant Fly" as a mock. Furious with the crows' heckling, Timothy rebukes their behavior. He shares Dumbo's background with the crows, who are immediately effected and moved to tears.
Ashamed of their behavior, Jim tries to make amends and offers to help Dumbo fly. Through the use of psychological trickery and a feather from Specks, Jim grants Timothy a "magic feather", which they claim will make Dumbo fly. In reality, it is merely a token to encourage and increase Dumbo's confidence. The crows take Dumbo to a nearby cliff, where he attempts to take off. After the dust clears, Timothy finds that Dumbo is actually flying, while the crows fly beside them and excitedly proclaim that they've seen everything—thus, singing a reprise of their song, "When I See an Elephant Fly". The crows see Dumbo back to the circus and openly anticipate the audiences' reaction to a flying elephant.
Afterwards, Dumbo's ability to fly makes him a national icon. His fame and fortune (headed by his manager, Timothy) allows for the release of his mother, Mrs. Jumbo. While preparing to ride off on Casey Junior with his mother, Dumbo takes flight with the crows during a final reprise of "When I See an Elephant Fly". Once Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo are reunited, the two elephants wave goodbye to the crows. While seeing them off, Jim remarks that he never got Dumbo's autograph until Fats assures him that he himself got his autograph to which Jim joyfully replies to Dumbo: "Well, so long glamour boy!"
In the animated series, the crows appeared as recurring guests, usually seen flying with Dumbo in crowd shots.
Their most notable role is in the episode "Donald Wants to Fly", where Donald Duck tries to fly. Upon seeing this, Jim (voiced here by Kevin Michael Richardson) jokes with the other crows that he's seen nearly everything fly, but he may never see Donald fly.
The crows make a cameo appearance in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. They are seen playing the background music of Jessica Rabbit's song "Why Don't You Do Right?". Jim, Deacon and Specks can also be spotted during the final scenes, hidden amongst the crowd of toons.
- In the original novel, an owl named Professor Hoot was the one that taught Dumbo how to fly.
- None of the crows' names were given in the film, though their names can be seen on model sheets used by the animators and in scripts. However, for example, Specks on his model sheets was simply named "Little Guy", then was renamed "Glasses" and finally "Specks".
- Dopey shares his name with the youngest of the seven dwarfs in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
- The crows' developed relationship with Dumbo would later inspire an identical relationship in The Jungle Book, between the vultures and Mowgli. On the audio commentary for the DVD release of The Jungle Book, Richard Sherman compared the two, calling the concept "classic Disney".
- Dumbo is often criticized as "racist" for the inclusion of the black crows as African-American caricatures; specifically the naming of Jim, which is an ironic and sarcastic reference to the infamous Jim Crow laws with the intent to mock them, "taking a cartoony jab at them". However, many critics, pundits and personalities reject these criticisms, noting that the majority of the crows are portrayed by African American actors (with the exception of Cliff Edwards) and their lead animator described them as being spoofs of many black entertainers at the time, with their clothes being based on 1930-40s fashion, such as Jim's derby hat and spats. The crows, however, have been viewed as protagonistic, being sympathetic to Dumbo's tribulations, and work with Timothy to perfect Dumbo's flying ability.
- When accepting her Disney Legends award in 2017, Whoopi Goldberg expressed her desire to see the crows appear in more merchandise by Disney.
- Along with Goldberg, other notable defenders of the crows are Floyd Norman, Leonard Maltin, Micheal Wilmington, Alex Wainer, Eric Goldberg, John Canemaker, John Grant, and the characters' chief animator, Ward Kimball.
- The movie opens with white storks flying, and closes with the crows flying in a similar V formation, thus closing the circle.
- When they are laughing after “When I See an Elephant Fly”, Jim’s clothes are incorrectly colored as brown and purple.
- "Cliff Edwards, Ward Kimball, Jack Kinney, and the Crows" (January 14, 2010).
- Dumbo: Big Top Edition DVD commentary
- Taking Flight: The Making of Dumbo on the Dumbo Blu-ray and Digital release
- "AFI Catalog Of Feature Films, The First 100 Years 1893 - 1993: Dumbo (1941)". AFI.
- Norman, Floyd (April 27, 2019). "Black Crows and Other PC Nonsense". MrFun's Journal. Retrieved on April 27, 2019.
- Maltin, Leonard (1973, 2000). The Disney Films. Disney Editions, Crown. ISBN 0786885270.
- Campbell, Gordon (May 3, 2010). "Classics: Dumbo (1941)". Werewolf. Retrieved on July 5, 2020.
- Grant, John (1987, 1993, 1998). Encyclopedia of Walt Disney's Animated Characters. Disney Editions, Hamlyn, Hyperion Books. ISBN 9780786863365.