- “You wanna make the elephant fly, don't ya?...Use the magic feather! Catch on?”
- ―Dandy Crow to Timothy Q. Mouse[src]
Dandy “Jim” Crow, Fats, Deacon, Dopey, and Specks are supporting characters in Disney’s 1941 animated feature film, Dumbo. They are a flock of wisecracking crows who pride themselves in having “seen everything”. Though they initially taunt the prospect of a flying elephant, the crows later devote themselves to teaching Dumbo how to fly, becoming his mentors and surrogate father figures.
Jim Crow (also known afterwards as Dandy Crow) 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 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. He tends to hold his belly when he laughs.
Deacon gets his name from his attire, which resembles that of a church deacon. He is refined and subdued, and the tallest of the crows. Deacon is often seen with his wings firmly tucked behind his back.
Dopey lives up to his namesake with his sloppy posture and clothing—his signature ensemble includes a yellow straw-hat with a missing top, which is held up by his beak (the hat typically obscures his eyes). Dopey’s often-unorthodox posture suggests that he is the most eccentric of the group.
Specks is the shortest of the crows, named for his oversized, pink-lensed glasses. Additionally, he wears a red sweater and a blue cap. Specks’s small size makes him the frequent butt of the crows’ jokes. He has a childlike deposition and a high-pitched voice. 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 characters. 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. Kimball was also adamant that the crows were differentiated characters with unique personalities.
The Hall Johnson Choir, an all-black gospel group based in Los Angeles, provided both the speaking and singing 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. Kimball was responsible for Edwards’s casting, attributing the choice in part due to Edwards's ability to imitate musical instruments. Kimball stated, “Cliff Edwards doing the voice of Jim Crow really made the whole sequence, because he was quite adept at doing kazoo solos on his old records, and he could vocally imitate other instruments,”. The casting of Edwards and the Hall Johnston Choir inspired Kimball when designing the crows and establishing their personalities. Kimball recalled, “The voices we used for the other crows were from the Hall Johnson Choir, a group from a well-known black church in Los Angeles. That’s why the development and differentiation of the characters really began on the night that we started recording. After listening to the voices, I decided that maybe the squeaky, high voice might be the little crow with the kid’s cap and pink glasses, and Jim Crow would be the big, dominating boss crow with the derby. Later, I began to graphically redesign the characters to make them emphatically different types.”
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 and teasing, 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. They were most frequently seen flying with Dumbo near the club’s screen in crowd shots.
Their most notable role is in the episode "Donald Wants to Fly", where Donald Duck spends the show trying to fly. After taking a failing a lesson from Dumbo and Timothy, Dandy (voiced here by Kevin Michael Richardson) jokes with the other crows that he's seen just about everything fly, including a dragon (Elliot from Pete's Dragon) and a horse (Pegasus from Hercules), but doubts that he would ever see Donald fly.
The crows make a cameo appearance in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. They are seen as employees of the Ink and Pink Club, performing the instrumentation for Jessica Rabbit's song "Why Don't You Do Right?". Dandy, Deacon and Specks can also be spotted during the final scenes, hidden amongst the crowd of toons.
Nurie Daisuki! Dumbo no Waku Waku Circus!
The crows appear in the Japanese game adaptation of the movie. Dumbo and Timothy encounter the flock atop a tree in a grasslands region. Interacting with each of the crows triggers different animation; Dandy smokes his cigar, Dopey tips his hat, Deacon flies around, Fats stomps the branch thus causing the tree to rumble, and Specks flaps his wings. The crows also lead a gameplay segment, in which they teach Dumbo how to fly by having the player match shapes.
In a limited time Dumbo event for the online Japanese game Pigg Life, Dandy Crow appeared alongside Dumbo, Timothy, Mrs. Jumbo, Mr. Stork, and the Pink Elephants as a garden figurine that can be placed throughout the map. He is depicted as perched atop a circus podium while holding the magic feather.
During Tokyo Disneyland’s Easter celebrations, an Easter egg inspired by Jim/Dandy can be found in the Baby Mine Baby Boutique beside a statue of Mr. Stork.
The crows appeared alongside Dumbo in the nighttime fireworks show, Celebrate! Tokyo Disneyland.
The crows are alluded to in the various iterations of the carousel-style attraction in Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, and Shanghai Disneyland. Timothy, who appears at the top of the ride, is seen holding the crows’ magic feather, thus “granting” the Dumbo vehicles the power to fly. The black feather motif also appears in other aspects of the attraction, such as the marquee.
- None of the crows' names were given in the film. Their names were instead confirmed by ancillary material such as model sheets, the film’s scripts, and publicity material leading up to the movie’s release.
- On some model sheets, Specks is referred to as "Little Guy".
- Jim's name was officially changed to "Dandy Crow" at some point in the 1950s in an attempt to avoid controversy. However, the name “Jim Crow” continues to be used today.
- The name “Dandy” is derived from the phrase “Jim-dandy”, which refers to something that is of superior quality or excellent.
- 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’s crow characters have been criticized several years after the film's release as racist African-American stereotypes; specifically in regards to the naming of “Jim Crow”, which shares the name of the infamous Jim Crow laws. According to animator Floyd Norman, the naming of Jim Crow was, “Disney taking a cartoony jab at the oppressive South”. Amidst the controversy, 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. Defenders have also lauded the crows as protagonistic, being empathetic and sympathetic to Dumbo's tribulations as being themselves another alienated, ostracized and discriminated group, and ultimately teaching the baby elephant how to fly.
- 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.
- Ironically, Richard Schickel, the person who started all the controversy regarding the crow characters after the death of Walt Disney with his controversial book The Disney Version, was a white man.
- One of the most interesting arguments in defense of the crow characters is from writer John Grant in his book Encyclopedia of Walt Disney's Animated Characters, in which he called out Richard Schickel's criticism and noticing a hypocrisy behind the controversy, stating that "It seems strange that racial offence should be discovered in their depiction: is it somehow alright to caricature whites but not blacks? That surely is a very deep racism, far deeper than anything in the friendly portrayal of the crows, although perhaps naming back then one of them 'Jim Crow' was a little questionable."
- Another one is from film and animation historian and critic Leonard Maltin in his book The Disney Films, in which he stated that "There has been considerable controversy over the Black Crow sequence in recent years, most of it unjustified. The crows are undeniably black, but they are black characters, not black stereotypes. There is no denigrating dialogue, or Uncle Tomism in the scene, and if offence is to be taken in hearing blacks call each other 'brother', then the viewer is merely being sensitive to accuracy."
- Starting in 2019, by the release of the live-action remake, book adaptations of the original film remove, along with the Pink Elephants scene, any appearances or references of the crows.
- 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”, the chief crow's clothes are incorrectly colored as brown and purple.
- The crows, like Timothy and other animal characters, do not appear in Tim Burton’s live-action reimagining Dumbo, but they are alluded to.
- The crows’ act of giving Dumbo a feather and teaching him to fly are transferred to the characters Millie and Joe Farrier.
- The feather that Millie and Joe provide is black, a further nod to the crows.
- When introducing Dumbo, the ringmaster of the Dreamland amusement park barks, “You’ve seen a horsefly, you’ve seen a dragonfly, you’ve even seen a housefly, but you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen an elephant fly!” This is a nod to the crows’ banter and their trademark song, “When I See An Elephant Fly”.
- A big band version of “When I See An Elephant Fly” is played during the film’s end credits.
- The crows’ act of giving Dumbo a feather and teaching him to fly are transferred to the characters Millie and Joe Farrier.
- "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
- The Dumbo That Never Was
- "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.