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Operation Dumbo Drop: Two Tons of Weak Humor

By Alison D. Overholt


Operation Dumbo Drop

directed by Simon Wincer

produced by Walt Disney Pictures

starring Danny Glover, Ray Liotta

Who else but Disney would try to convince America that a twoton elephant could be air-dropped from a military cargo plane into a remote Vietnamese mountain village? This latest creation from the Magic Kingdom could be easily passed over by the avid moviegoer--if only it weren't a true story.

That's right. Disney wasn't content to release just one movie grounded in historical fact this summer; last Friday Operation Dumbo Drop joined Pocohantas as the company's second summer family flick that's based on a true story.

In an interview with talk show host Jay Leno, Operation Dumbo Drop star Danny Glover said that the U.S. military maintained good relations with Vietnamese mountain villages during the war by air-dropping elephants to them.

At the time, elephants were the villages' chief source of farm labor, and the villages themselves were of strategic value to U.S. forces because they lay on the edge of the Ho Chi Minh trail, the Viet Cong supply route.

Elephants, in short, were offerings made to make hostile villagers not quite so hostile.

On April 4, 1968, several elephants were in fact parachuted into these villages, Glover said.

But the event never get much press in the U.S. because the airdrop happened on the same day that a major Vietnamese military leader died.

Unfortunately, the crazy but true basis of "Operation Dumbo Drop" is the movie's greatest highlight. Much of the rest of the film simply can't carry its own weight.

Glover, as a U.S. green beret commander, squares off against up-and-coming green beret leader Ray Liotta. The two disagree over how to handle relations with a mountain village on the edge of the Ho Chi Minh trail, and while they are off on a scouting mission, a group of Viet Cong enter the village and punish the locals for helping Americans by shooting their elephant.

The village is horrified by the killing because not only is their elephant their only farm labor source, but he is held sacred by village tradition. And it is up to Liotta and Glover to get them a new one.

Your imagination can take over at this point: joined by a sarcastic requisitions officer (Denis Leary), and two inept privates (Doug E. Doug and Corin Nemec), Glover and Liotta argue themselves all the way to an available elephant.

At this point, they pick up Bo Tat, the elephant, and his young caretaker (Dinh Thien Le). The group then tries to bring Bo Tat all the way across Vietnam without anybody noticing.

There are a few high points to the movie, including a crazy chase scene through a Vietnamese market when Bo Tat gets hungry, and another on water where Bo Tat gets seasick. In other words, the elephant is the best actor in the movie.

Beyond Bo Tat, jokes and slapstick carry the film a short distance, but between jokes, Dumbo Drop drags its feet. And the scenes where Glover tries to bond with Bo Tat and show off his sensitivity are just awful.

Operation Dumbo Drop is worth watching for the jokes it does manage to carry off, and especially for the scene where they actually do parachute Bo Tat out of a cargo plane. But don't spend $7.25 to do it; wait for the video.

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