OPERATION DUMBO DROP. Directed by Simon Wincer; written by Gene Quintano and Jim Kouf; produced by Diane Nabatoff and David Madden for Walt Dianey. Starring Ray Liotta and Danny Glover. Rated PG.
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Although it has its share of silly moments, Operation Dumbo Drop is not as ridiculous as the title makes it sound. It's actually a better-than-average kids and animals movie that manages to remain funny and upbeat in spite of being set in pretty serious circumstances—Vietnam, 1968.
The story takes longer than it should to get going, while in the process not being too clear about some important setting-up details. But the basic idea is that a remote Vietnamese village, situated perfectly for spying on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, is in need of an elephant. The bad guys killed the one they had (this is the only sequence that might really upset sensitive youngsters) in retaliation for the villagers helping the Americans. And super good guy Capt. Cahill (Grover) wants to replace it for them before he turns over his spying post to his replacement, Capt. Doyle (Liotta).
It turns out that procuring the elephant isn't too tough, but transporting it certainly is. In addition to the obvious logistical problems, our heroes have to contend with the enemy, who don't want the Yanks to get credit in the countryside for any good deeds, and with the American military brass who decide the village isn't that important after all.
Just as the narrative has some rough spots in the beginning, it takes a while for the cast to jell into a group of guys that we can really care about. It eventually happens, though. Doug E. Doug provides comic relief as an artilleryman sweating out his last seven days before discharge. And Denis Leary, though underutilized, does a good job with that oft-used character, the miracle-working requisitions officer.
Not unpredictably, Liotta and Glover, though they start out at each others' throats, develop respect and affection for each other. The elephant herself (her name is Tai and she's a movie veteran—remember the elephant taking off with Ted Danson atop to chase Whoopi Goldberg's bicycle bell in Made in America?) is a treat to watch. And Dinh Thien Le, who has only been in the U.S. for a couple of years and who has no acting experience, is a delightful discovery as her young handler.
You might reasonably question, before seeing Operation Dumbo Drop, whether an effective family comedy could have the Vietnam War as a backdrop. But through a combination of appealing actors and a script that resolutely—but not unreasonably¯accentuates the positive, (even the VC get to show a little heart at the end) they've managed to do it. The emphasis is on trying to do something good in a bad situation. And the result, surprisingly, is a feel-good movie.
August 16, 1995