Friday, July 20, 2012

How Dumbo Ends: Crows Left Behind

Having already examined the opening of Dumbo, let’s now take a look at the ending. Nothing deep here. Just stating what’s there for everyone to see.

Let’s go way to the end, when the action’s over. Dumbo’s triumphed in the circus. Immediately we get a montage of newspaper and magazine covers:

DUMBO Wonder Elephant

This next one is particularly important. Not only because it references the war, but because it identifies Dumbo with a bomber whose nose was designed to look like him:

DUMBO Dumbomber's for Defense

Military aircraft were as high-tech as technology got in 1941—still are in 2012 for that matter. That identification—between animals and technology—is at the heart of the mythological dimension of the film.

Then, of course, the inevitable Hollywood contract:

DUMBO Hollywood

Timothy Mouse gets to play the big shot and ... what could possibly be more successful than making it in Hollywood?

The montage goes by quickly and gives way to this shot, the circus train, Casey Jones, Jr., riding merrily along:

DUMBO Casey on Top World

Notice the extreme anthropomorphic make-over on the train, though it is, of course, absolutely standard in cartoons. A nominally inanimate being, a steam locomotive, has been given an all-but-human face. Notice also the curvature of the earth, as though the train is literally at the top of the world, thus echoing the aerial shots from the beginning.

The sound track features “When I See An Elephant Fly,” but it’s not being sung by the crows. It’s being sung by the elephant matrons who earlier had ostracized Dumbo and his mother.

As the train goes by we finally see that last car with Mrs. Jumbo sitting in the rear:

DUMBO Private Car

The car is Dumbo’s private car, Dumbo’s and his mom’s. Notice the sleek aerodynamic styling. This is very modern and contrasts with the other cars on the train.

Now we see Dumbo with his crow “posse” flying behind him:

DUMBO and Posse

Notice his aviator cap, which identifies him with the Dumbombers. This elephant flies with the latest fashion.

And the crows are now in formation behind him, thus reversing their earlier situation when they had to lead him. He now leads them.

Dumbo breaks away from them and rejoins his mother

DUMBO rejoin mom

DUMBO crows on a pole

while the crows take up formation at the top of a telephone pole. We’ve see these before, of course, when Dumbo first flew and ended up landing on telephone wires, and the crows landed on him. We’ve got more high technology, 1941-style: the telephone system.

And the crows, those jive talking happy go lucky good-hearted African American crows, they aren’t in the circus train. Never were, never will be.

DUMBO sunset

The film ends with the train rolling off into the sunset while the crows are up on the telephone pole, watching it go, and talking about getting Dumbo’s autograph. They helped Dumbo find himself, helped him become a hero, and they’re still outsiders.

I’m reminded of the end of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck’s abusive and alcoholic father is dead, Jim’s been freed, and Huck decides to “light out for the territory” to avoid civilization: “...I can’t stand it. I been there before.” When Dumbo puts on a few more pounds he won’t be able to fly and he’ll just be another circus elephant, him and his mom. Those crows won’t be able to help him them. Besides, they’ve got their own problems.

The happy ending is only in the movie. The world is bigger than that.

ADDENDUM: Where's the train going in the last frame grab? The film started out in South Florida, but that doesn't look like Florida to me, nor Louisiana, nor anywhere in the Midwest.


  1. Outsiders?
    Man, all this crap people have been talking about the black crow's.
    First, they're the heroes of the movie.
    Second, everything about them is FREE.
    They don't wanna be on a damn circus train, they can FLY.
    Everything about them represents freedom and good spirit.

    1. Well, they ARE outsiders, certainly to the society of the circus. And it's that outsider status that, in the underlying myth logic that's operating here, allows them to be the heroes. That's how these things work. Society's messed up so someone has to come in from the outside and make things right. When they've done that, they leave. That's how the Lone Ranger did it and that's how these crows do it.