OPERATION DUMBO DROP (1995)
From Simon Wincer, director of Free Willy, comes the heartwarming Vietnam War story you never expected to see. Operation Dumbo Drop tells the (vaguely) true story of a group of soldiers who have to drop an elephant out of a plane. It’s time for wackily inaccurate history! A-pachyderm Now! Let’s go!
It’s a beautiful sunny day in Vietnam! Captain Doyle (Ray Liotta) has just been reassigned to a scenic mountain village where he will be relieving Captain Cahill (Danny Glover). Everyone is happy, and all is right with the world (well, except for the whole Vietnam War thing). Why, the happy villagers even brought everybody drinks!
War, what is it good for? Making friends and getting drunk!
Sadly, it’s not all fun and games up by the Ho Chi Minh trail. Doyle gives some kids a Crunch bar, and the Viet Cong find out about it, so they kill the village’s pet elephant. Because that’s how they roll.
Should have replaced that red, white, and blue Crunch bar with a red Krackel.
Because Doyle and Cahill (and by extension the U.S. Military) are stand-up guys, they agree to get the village a new elephant. This will have the side benefit of stopping the villagers from kicking them out on their Crunch bar-giving asses. To help them in this cause, they enlist a grumpy requisitions officer (Denis Leary), some superstitious guy (Doug E. Doug), and a farm boy who hates animals (Corin Nemec). An elephant is found, and it comes with its own kid to drive it (Dinh Thien Le).
But getting the large mammal to the village is a more difficult task. They have to shove a suppository up his butt to tranquilize him enough for a plane ride. They have to ride him through hostile territory. They need to take him on a sickening barge. Mostly it’s just people arguing while the elephant sits around in one type of vehicle or another.
Operation Dumbo Truck.
Eventually, they get the elephant back to their base, but their commanding officer tells them they can’t take it any further, because there is no landing strip at the mountain village. Oops. They decide to go rogue and drop the elephant out of a plane without permission, because why the hell not.
It’s like a WKRP Thanksgiving on crack.
The elephant survives without having a heart attack. The villagers are happy. The team doesn’t get court-martialed for some reason. Everyone lives happily ever after (until the Viet Cong come and massacre the village for working with the Americans, presumably).
There’s something very disconcerting about a Disney movie based on a true story. Disney productions are generally so shiny and upbeat, whereas real life usually has some rough edges. So even if the movie is about a dog teaching a town to fall in love with tennis or some shit, you always get the feeling that something, possibly something important, has been glossed over. Okay, now add Vietnam to the mix. This is just a recipe for trouble.
But, guys, cute baby elephant!
Guess what? The real story isn’t quite as fun. Turns out the reason the village needed the elephant wasn’t because the evil Viet Cong shot it after discovering a Crunch bar wrapper. No, the U.S. Military had put a remote village to work logging mahogany to ship back to the U.S. and needed a pack animal to do their heavy lifting. This is troubling for a couple of reasons. First of all, it means that rather than just giving the villagers a helping hand, the military was actually harnessing the labor of the villagers for their own ends. Secondly, deforestation is kind of a huge issue in Vietnam, not just because of heavy logging, but also because, well, Agent Orange.
Hey, kids, mind if we chop down the few trees we didn’t kill with frightening chemicals?
Okay, so the end destination of our elephant isn’t so picturesque in reality, but what about its origin? Is a poor orphaned kid getting a new lease on life with his trunked friend? Well, turns out finding an elephant was a little more difficult than the movie made it look. John Gantt, the self-described Danny Glover in this scenario, said trying to get a village to give up an elephant was “like trying to buy kids.” Fun!
Oh, and the elephants were never actually dropped out of a plane. That had been the original idea, but the British SPCA gave them a hard time about it, so they just airlifted the elephants with helicopters instead.
Dropping an elephant out of a plane may be more cruel, but it sure is more fun!
Oh, and the whole thing was called Operation Barroom (after the sound of elephant farts!), not Dumbo Drop, because, well, they weren’t dropping any Dumbos. Jeez Louise, was anything in this movie true? Why, yes! That scene where the elephant threw up on the boat is true to life—the only reason they didn’t just use a barge to move the elephants in the first place was because they got seasick.
“I’m getting too old for this puke.”
So, after all those changes to the source material, what was the moral of Operation Dumbo Drop? Vietnam wasn’t terrible. Fun was had. Friends were made. Those happy villagers got an elephant. DON’T ASK ANY MORE QUESTIONS.
WHY DON’T PEOPLE LIKE IT?:
Honestly, I’m surprised that this didn’t get a higher IMDb rating than it did. (Blank Check beat it, for goodness’ sake!) For all it’s insipidity, Operation Dumbo Drop is a thoroughly passable movie. Nothing to write home about, but a sedately watchable time. There are a bunch of competent actors hanging around with a cute kid and an elephant. How did it miss? Well, I think it might be that Dumbo Drop is trapped in a poop joke no man’s land. It has too many poop jokes to be taken seriously, but is too serious for audiences to enjoy all the poop jokes. Sad times.
This man continues to flail around on those turds for far too long a time.
MOST REGRETTABLE MOMENT:
When asked if he knows how to handle an elephant, Doug E. Doug’s character replies, “I was in love with a fat woman once, but she never listened to me.” Do I have to explain why this is awful? No? You got it? Good. Moving on.
So, what to make of Disney Does Vietnam? Eh. In the end, I could take it or leave it. Let’s be honest, probably leave it. But I don’t feel like I lost two hours of my life that I can now never get back, so hey, step in the right direction!
A Kid in King Arthur’s Court (1995)