“Dumbo” (1941) is a lesser feature film in the Walt Disney legacy, a charming fantasy about a baby elephant with ears sufficiently floppy to double as wings.
“Operation Dumbo Drop,” which opens today, is a live-action Disney endeavor about a REAL elephant that goes airborne over a Southeast Asian jungle. Here is one of the more self-conscious, self-referential efforts the old-line major studio has turned out.
This manipulative crowd-pleaser seems calculated to sell plenty of tickets AND move plenty of videocassette copies of the original “Dumbo.” Anyone in need of some decent family entertainment could do a whole lot worse, even though there’s something problematic about any company that tries to make a feel-good movie about the war in Vietnam.
Danny Glover radiates his customary warmth as a fair-minded Army captain who undertakes an outlandish mission out of respect for a group of villagers. Ray Liotta plays a by-the-book officer who wants nothing do to with transporting an elephant to a remote village.
Denis Leary makes a strong impression as a resourceful opportunist, and “Cool Runnings” co-star Doug E. Doug supplies about equal measures of poignancy and comic relief as a short-timer who’ll do whatever it takes to stay alive. The elephant, a trained marvel known as Tai, steals the show.
Based on a news story distributed a generation ago by Special Forces Information Officer Jim Morris in Vietnam, “Operation Dumbo Drop” concerns a Green Berets campaign to transport 8,000 pounds of sacred elephant through a 200-mile stretch of jungle. The “Dumbo Drop” angle comes in with a decision to parachute the creature to its destined village.
“Operation Dumbo Drop” benefits particularly from the presence of Australian director Simon Wincer. A master naturalist whose movies seldom fail to deliver the scenic goods (check out 1982’s “The Man from Snowy River” or 1993’s “Free Willy”), Wincer also possesses a strong human touch that makes even a stilted script like this one (by Gene Quintano and Jim Kouf) play smoothly enough.
And, yes, that’s an animatronic elephant, a newer form of animation, making the climactic parachute drop. The movie cinches its kinship to the cartoon “Dumbo” by borrowing a signature tune from the 1941 picture, “When I See an Elephant Fly,” for the soundtrack.
xxxx “OPERATION DUMBO DROP” Locations: North Division, Lincoln Heights and Showboat cinemas Credits: Directed by Simon Wincer, starring Danny Glover, Ray Liotta, Denis Leary and Doug E. Doug. Running time: 1:40 Rating: PG