Tag Archives: Dumbo

Dumbo “When I See an Elephant Fly” (1941)

In keeping with the unofficial theme this week of covering Disney’s non-politically correct moments, it wouldn’t do to forget the crows in Dumbo. But first, a quick recap as to how Dumbo meets these characters:

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Dumbo “When I See An Elephant Fly” (1941)

Things have been going badly for our baby elephant: first his mother his locked away in chains; then a stunt goes awry and Dumbo is turned into a circus clown; third, and most recently, his well-meaning friend Timothy Q. Mouse accidentally gets him drunk and they both hallucinate pink elephants! (It’s amazing what they could put in a film back in 1941!!) The following morning, Dumbo and Timothy wake up….in a tree!! This is where Dumbo and his friend meet the crows.

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Oh those crows…to be honest, I didn’t realize for a long time that the crows were a racist depiction. When you’re a little kid, you don’t think about those things, you just see some singing birds and that’s that. But as I got older and learned about the history of these things, I began to see these crows in a whole new light. And one thing I learned is that stereotypes can appear in disguise, for instance using black crows instead of, well, pardon the non-PC reference but using black crows instead of black humans. Another big clue? The leader of these crows is named…Jim Crow (no, seriously, check out the credits on Wikipedia!) A third clue? The birds all speak “jive,” a style of slang well-associated with African-American musicians during this time. They also sing jive too, and that’s where we get to “When I See An Elephant Fly.”

I seen a peanut stand, heard a rubber band
I seen a needle that winked its eye
But I be done seen ’bout ev’rything
When I see an elephant fly

(What d’you say, boy?) 
I said when I see an elephant fly
I seen a front porch swing, heard a diamond ring
I seen a polka-dot railroad tie
But I be done seen ’bout ev’rything
When I see an elephant fly

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One thing that is fun about this song is most of the words have a double meaning; it helps if you put quotes around the words with changed meanings: so…a front porch that “swings” (dances); a diamond “ring” (like a bell), a railroad “tie” (necktie), and so on.

(I saw a clothes horse, he r’ar up and buck) 
(And they tell me that a man made a vegetable truck) 
(I didn’t see that, I only heard) 
(But just to be sociable, I’ll take your word)

(I heard a fireside chat, I saw a baseball bat) 
(And I just laughed till I thought I’d die) 
But I be done seen ’bout ev’rything
When I see an elephant fly

Well I be done seen ’bout ev’rything
When I see an elephant fly
(With the wind)

When I see an elephant fly

See, initially, the crows are inclined to tease Dumbo for his ears just like everyone else has throughout the story. But then Timothy sets them all straight by recounting (briefly) all the terrible things that have happened to Dumbo. The shamed crows decide to make it up to the pair by helping Dumbo to fly for real (it’s implied that Dumbo flew to the tree while he was drunk and just doesn’t remember doing so). To help in this process, the head crow presents a feather to Dumbo, calling it a “magic” feather that will help him fly (with a knowing wink to Timothy who catches on quick). Sure enough, with the feather clutched tight, Dumbo CAN fly!! As the crows say (as Dumbo and Timothy return to the circus), “those city boys are in for a big surprise!”

What do you think about “When I See An Elephant Fly”? Were the racist elements obvious or did it also take you a while to catch on? Let me know what you think in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Dumbo “Song of the Roustabouts” (1941)

Disney Films & Soundtracks A-Z

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Dumbo “Song of the Roustabouts” (1941)

Forgive the pun but I decided it’s time to clear another elephant out of the room. Unfortunately, for everything good that Disney has contributed to film and animation, there are multiple examples of Disney portraying things they probably want to forget about. One example is the “Song of the Roustabouts” from Dumbo (1941). After baby Dumbo arrives on the train (via late delivery from the stork), the train pulls in to where the circus will be held the following day. As a storm breaks out, the elephants and other animals disembark to help set up the big top, accompanied by the roustabouts: these are unskilled laborers, often employed for hard labor.

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Dumbo “Song of the Roustabouts” (1941)

It’s hard to tell given this scene takes place at night, but the roustabouts in Dumbo are all African-American, and given that this takes place in 1941 the lyrics are…interesting to say the very least. The song starts off with cries of “Hike! Ugh!” as the singers/workers establish a driving pattern to aid in driving in the tent stakes:

Hike! Ugh! Hike! Ugh! Hike! Ugh! Hike!
We work all day, we work all night
We never learned to read or write
We’re happy-hearted roustabouts

Hike! Ugh! Hike! Ugh! Hike! Ugh! Hike!
When other folks have gone to bed
We slave until we’re almost dead
We’re happy-hearted roustabouts

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Just stop and look at these two verses alone: according to the roustabouts they can’t read or write, they work extremely hard and yet despite all this they’re “happy-hearted roustabouts”? It sounds ironic in 2018 but in 1941 they’re being quite serious.

Hike! Ugh! Hike! Ugh! Hike! Ugh! Hike!
We don’t know when we get our pay
And when we do, we throw our pay away
We get our pay when children say
With happy hearts, “It’s circus day today”

This is the verse that disturbs me the most, it implies that when the roustabouts DO get paid, they promptly blow their money on frivolous things (keeping in line with certain stereotypes about African-Americans being lazy, etc. Remember, this was 1941 and these things were considered acceptable then).

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Muscles achin’
Back near breaking
Eggs and bacon what we need (Yes, sir!)
Boss man houndin’
Keep on poundin’
For your bed and feed
There ain’t no let up
Must get set up
Pull that canvas! Drive that stake!
Want to doze off
Get them clothes off
But must keep awake

During this long section, the other animals are shown helping in the set up, mostly the elephants moving stakes and poles, but the camels are helping too. It’s funny, when I watched this movie as a young kid, I was convinced that the circus animals really did help in this way. Even Dumbo is seen doing his part alongside his mother.

Hep! Heave! Hep! Heave! Hep! Heave!
Hep! Heave! Hep! Heave! Hep! Heave!
Hep! Heave! Hep!

Swing that sledge! Sing that song!
Work and laugh the whole night long
You happy-hearted roustabouts!
Pullin’, poundin’, tryin’, groundin’
Big top roundin’ into shape
Keep on working!
Stop that shirking!
Grab that rope, you hairy ape!
Poundin’! poundin’! poundin’! poundin’!
Oh

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The storm that started when the train arrived has now become a full-on thunderstorm (poor Dumbo hides in fright from the lightning). And the song does throw in one last unbelievable line with “Grab that rope, you hairy ape!” (I really won’t explain that one in further detail since it really speaks for itself). At last, despite the driving rain and winds, the big top is raised and come morning the circus is ready to begin!

It might seem strange to focus on these songs (especially given the issues going on in the country right now), but I can’t let these songs slip away unnoticed. Not writing about them is tantamount to saying they never happened, but they did. So on that note, I hope you found “Song of the Roustabouts” interesting. Let me know what you think of this song in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Disney Films & Soundtracks A-Z

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Disturbing Disney #4: Dumbo loses his mother (1941)

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When I was compiling a list of ‘disturbing’ moments in Disney films, a particular scene in Dumbo (1941) immediately jumped up to almost the top of the list.

The film tells the story of a baby elephant named Dumbo who is born with overly large ears, a feature which earns mocking and scorn from the other circus elephants. Despite this, Dumbo is relatively happy because he has his mother, Mrs. Jumbo, with him.

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But this happy pair isn’t going to be together for long, and that is why the following scene is on the list of ‘disturbing’ Disney moments.

Mrs. Jumbo is taken away (Dumbo, 1941)

The circus has come to a new town, and after taking part in a big parade, the circus animals are on display in a big tent for the curious public, including Mrs. Jumbo and Dumbo. Everything is fine until a goofy kid comes by and takes special interest in Dumbo’s big ears. The baby elephant doesn’t quite understand what’s going on, but his mother certainly does, so she pushes Dumbo away and turns her back to the crowd. From here things only go downhill.

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Dumb kid

Against all reason, the kid goes into the enclosure and begins pulling Dumbo out by his tail, further messing with his ears in the process. Now Mrs. Jumbo is getting upset; she takes Dumbo away again, but the kid just won’t let it be (he clearly hasn’t heard the rule that says you must NEVER come between a mother animal and her young). He grabs Dumbo again and THIS time Mrs. Jumbo has had enough. He picks up the kid with her trunk and gives him a good shake and that’s when everything goes to pieces.

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The crowd reacts with panic and there are cries of “mad elephant!!!” Instead of the kid getting punished for riling up Mrs. Jumbo in the first place, the circus workers move to tie up Mrs. Jumbo for doing what any mother would do: protecting her baby!! I find this scene so heartwrenching and so horrifying, I eventually found myself unable to watch, because I would get so upset. There’s so much happening at once: Mrs. Jumbo is being tied with ropes from all sides; the ringmaster is WHIPPING her, and worst of all, Dumbo is grabbed by a couple of workers and carried away from his panicked mother. She only wants her baby, but now the ropes are replaced with chains, and it will be a long time before Dumbo sees his mother again.

I find this scene disturbing because of the unfairness of it all. Mrs. Jumbo didn’t do anything wrong, she was simply defending her baby from a dumb kid who was trying to hurt him. If anything, it’s the kid who should’ve been punished, what right did he have to go in the enclosure with the elephants in the first place?? And the whole scene with Mrs. Jumbo being forcibly tied up while her baby is being taken away, it just rips my heart to pieces. It’s a messed up, disturbing moment, and one that is hard to forget.

What do you think of this scene from Dumbo? Let me know in the comments below, have a good rest of the day 🙂

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For more Disturbing Disney see also:

Disturbing Disney #1: The Coachman in Pinocchio (1940)

Disturbing Disney #2: The truth of Pleasure Island in Pinocchio (1940)

Disturbing Disney #3: Escaping Monstro from Pinocchio (1940)

Disturbing Disney #5 The death of Bambi’s Mother

Disturbing Disney #6: Faline vs. the dogs (1942)

Disturbing Disney #7: Cruella wants to do WHAT??

Disturbing Disney #8: The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met (from Make Mine Music, 1946)

Disturbing Disney #9: Dr. Facilier’s Fate (The Princess and the Frog, 2009)

Disturbing Disney #10: The rat in Lady and the Tramp (1955)

Disturbing Disney #11: Clayton’s Death in Tarzan (1999)

Disturbing Disney #12: The Bear from The Fox and the Hound (1981)

Disturbing Disney #13: “Smoking them out” in The Fox and the Hound (1981)

Disturbing Disney #14: The Salt Trap in The Jungle Book (1994)

Disturbing Disney #15: Night on Bald Mountain from Fantasia (1940)

Disturbing Disney #16: King Triton destroys Ariel’s grotto

Disturbing Disney #17: Ratigan becomes a monster in The Great Mouse Detective

Disturbing Disney #18: The Queen’s assignment for her Huntsman

Disturbing Disney #19: Cinderella’s dress is destroyed (1950)

Disturbing Disney #20: Quasimodo is crowned ‘King of Fools’ (1996)

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