Operation Dumbo Drop
By Polly M. Robertus,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Wartime adventure has language, violence.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Encourages looking at people as individuals and suggests that differences can be overcome with mutual respect and understanding. Teamwork and developing trust are also themes.
Positive Role Models
Young Linh is shown to be strong and capable and has a sensitive, loving bond with elephant Bo Tat. The two main U.S. captains are very different: Cahill is empathetic and develops a relationship with the local villagers, keeping in mind their safety. Doyle plays by the book and comes across as arrogant and gruff, though his sense of responsibility and care for his soldiers shines through. Some supporting military characters are shown to be greedy, cowardly, incompetent; they often tease and physically provoke each other.
Vietnam setting is exotified by pipe music and villagers shown in traditional clothing, their day-to-day lives full of spiritualism and ceremony. In an offensive scene, a Vietnamese character talks about eating rats and raw snake, made worse by the film comparing this to "civilized" Americans consuming branded food in wrappers. Someone compares an elephant to a "fat woman" as a joke. On the rare positive side, a blind character is shown to be confident, clever, and sarcastic, which goes against stereotypes.
Inclusion information: Black actors
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Violence & Scariness
Physical fights include kicking, punching, hitting with objects, and threatening with guns. A child is shown with blood on his nose and lip, implying that he's been threatened by Vietnamese soldiers. Guns are fired, including causing the death of an elephant off-screen. Snipers, missiles, and grenades mentioned. Grenade thrown into tent to scare a soldier. Explosion on a boat; passengers jump overboard. Soldiers force villagers from their homes at night, causing characters to cry in distress. A child threatens soldiers with a knife. Planes are shot at and shown out of control. Death of parents and siblings is mentioned, including the shooting of a father. A young character is introduced as orphaned. Elephants are used to lift heavy objects, and one is shown tranquilized.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Allusion to one character's affair with a higher officer's wife, and a joke that he thought it was the officer's daughter.
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Infrequent language includes "hell," "butt," "dang," "shoot," "ass," "smart-ass," "stupid," "jeez," "whiz," "darn," "damn," and "dammit."
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Products & Purchases
Nestle Crunch bars are shown very prominently on a few occasions. Coke brand is mentioned a few times.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Wine is consumed as part of a ceremony, though characters aren't seen intoxicated. It's offered to characters on another occasion, but they decline. A cigar is seen in a character's mouth, though no smoke comes out of it.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Operation Dumbo Drop, which is set during the Vietnam War, portrays Vietnamese people in a stereotypical way and oversimplifies the atrocities of the conflict. American characters mostly act respectful during the film, though there are moments otherwise, such as someone urinating in a temple. Soldiers joke and tease each other but also show compassion and teamwork. Violence includes physical fights, explosions, and frequent shooting, though the aftermath isn't shown. Occasional language includes "ass," "damn," and "hell." There is a reliance on potty humor at times, with a number of scenes involving the elephant's bodily functions. The death of parents is mentioned, a young character is orphaned, and there's a separation of characters at the end that may be upsetting for younger viewers.
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Where to Watch
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What's the Story?
In OPERATION DUMBO DROP, two mismatched U.S. Army captains, affable Cahill (Danny Glover) and straitlaced Doyle (Ray Liotta), lead a small team of inept soldiers on a mission to deliver an elephant to a Vietnamese village in time for an important ceremony. The elephant in question comes with its own handler, a young orphaned boy named Linh (Dinh Thien Le), and the group begin an adventure across land, water, and finally air, with the North Vietnamese Army in hot pursuit.
Is It Any Good?
Although the film sounds like a fun adventure, it never quite lands. The premise of Operation Dumbo Drop is extraordinary -- made even more so because it's based on true events -- yet, while the movie seems to be marketed broadly toward families, it's neither exciting enough to hold kids' full attention or developed enough to satisfy adults looking for a little more depth. The Vietnam War is very much kept in the background, which may be a decision made to keep the story more family friendly, but it also trivializes the experiences of those involved in the war. The tender bond between elephant Bo Tat and young handler Linh and Cahill's humble, knowledgeable appreciation of Vietnam and its people are positive elements, and relationships are where the film really makes an impact. The gradual trust built between Linh and the U.S. soldiers and the friendship developed between the boy and Cahill will bring a tear to the most stoic of eyes, and there's a focus on developing an understanding and mutual respect between the two initially mismatched captains as well.
There are times when the film promises to take flight, with some energetic, Disney-esque scenes of the elephant running through the streets wreaking havoc to a soundtrack of Aretha's Franklin's "Think" that channels some much-needed joy. But the only other comedic moments bring temporary relief via the elephant's bodily functions. Maybe if director Simon Wincer had approached the animal with the respect he showed the orca in his previous film, Free Willy, Operation Dumbo Drop could have packed more of an emotional punch without resorting to cheap laughs.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the characters of Cahill and Doyle in Operation Dumbo Drop. At first they seem wildly different in their approaches, but can you think of things they might have common? How can it be useful to look for common ground with people different from yourself?
How are elephants portrayed in the film? And how do you think the spiritual stories Linh tells the soldiers connect to the enemy's refusal to shoot Bo Tat?
Although the film tries to be respectful toward Vietnamese culture, in what ways does it fail? What stereotypes did you notice about Vietnamese people -- and, to a broader extent, Asian people -- that the film perpetuates?
- In theaters: July 28, 1995
- On DVD or streaming: November 5, 1996
- Cast: Danny Glover, Doug E. Doug, Ray Liotta
- Director: Simon Wincer
- Inclusion Information: Black actors
- Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Adventures, Wild Animals
- Run time: 108 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: war action and language.
- Last updated: February 18, 2023
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