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Film / Operation: Dumbo Drop

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"I should be on a top secret mission with crack commandos, but instead I'm in an episode of McHale's Navy starring Dumbo, Mr. French, and The Three Stooges!"
Captain T.C. Doyle

Operation Dumbo Drop is a 1995 Disney live-action comedy film set during the Vietnam War. In it, Capt. T.C. Doyle (Ray Liotta), a hard-nosed Green Beret, is assigned to a local village to keep watch on the Ho Chi Minh trail. There he meets up with with Capt. Sam Cahill (Danny Glover). While the two are out scouting the trail, the NVA raid the village, discovering a chocolate bar wrapper, meaning the villagers were harboring American troops. As punishment, they shoot their prized elephant.

Feeling responsible for their loss, Cahill promises to get them a new one, a move that Doyle vehemently opposes. Despite his protests the operation is approved and Doyle is placed in charge. They set about gathering their team, comprising of two soldiers, a requisitions officer, an elephant and the boy who handles the elephant, Linh.

Along the way, the NVA are tipped off about what they are doing and, in an effort to keep them from keeping their word, set out to stop them. This begins a chase through the deep, green jungles of South Vietnam, which ends when they find the only way they can get the elephant to the village — is up.

This film contains examples of:

  • Abandon Ship: Everyone has to bail out of the plane when it suffers engine damage.
    • The NVA have to do this rapidly when H.A. orders a artillery strike on their boat after properly calculating the time the shell would land upon it from a previously fired marking round (see Exactly What I Aimed At below).
  • Arc Words:
    Linh: Everything number one, A-OK.
  • Artistic License – Animal Care: Elephants are too heavy relative to their leg strength to jump normally without injuring themselves. Bo Tat would have broken all four ankles just from the shock of the chute opening, assuming that it didn't die outright. But even if the elephant did survive, the landing would be even worsenote  (and that's before you take into account the fact that it would be landing on ankles that are already broken).
  • Artistic License – Physics: It's likely that Doyle trying to open Bo Tat's parachute during the climax the way he did, by wrapping the parachute cord around his arm, and then pulling his own open to yank it upwards, would have dislocated his shoulder at best and ripped his arm right out of its socket at worst. Of course, he turns out fine without a single scratch.
  • Ass Shove: The pills to tranquilize the elephant aren't taken orally.
  • A-Team Montage: The Squad prepping for the final leg of the mission.
  • Bad Butt: The setting of the Vietnam War combined with the fact that this was a PG-rated Disney movie lead to a lot of fights in which the soldiers shoot their guns into the air to distract the Vietcong, then incapacitate them with judo throws.
  • Big Damn Heroes: H.A. saving the team from the Vietcong at the end.
  • Blackmail: Cahill gets Poole to come along by threatening to tell a General Ripper type that Poole had sex with his wife.
  • Black Dude Dies First: H.A. is scared shitless he's gonna die, especially as he's a "short-timer" (see Retirony below) and so very close to making it out of the war alive. He survives the whole movie.
  • Brick Joke: Courtesy of the aforementioned tranq pills:
    Doyle: "Poole! Any more of that water buffalo tranquilizer?"
    Poole: "You really enjoyed that, didn't you, Doyle?"
    Doyle: (Head Desk)
    Poole: "Linh was right. You are weird."
  • By-the-Book Cop: Doyle is a by-the-book Green Beret. He and Cahill get into a brief fight over Just Following Orders.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Lt. Quang's reluctance at the start of the film is crucial near the end.
  • Chekhov's Lecture: Linh teaches Farley the basic commands for Bo Tat. He ends up using them—or, at least, he tries to, with less-than-ideal results.
  • Covers Always Lie: The poster depicts an African elephant in camouflage depicted as going to war. The movie is about the delivery of an Asian elephant.
  • Conveniently an Orphan: Deconstructed with Linh. At first, being an orphan seems like the simple reason he gets to go on all sorts of exciting adventures with the team. Then it's revealed he had to watch his father get shot in front of his eyes. How else do you think he became an orphan in Vietnam during the war?
  • Cuddle Bug:
    Linh: Linh like hug. Hug good.
  • Didn't Think This Through: The objective is to get the elephant to the village. The logistics of actually doing that prove...tricky.
  • Disobeyed Orders, Not Punished: A Ragtag Bunch of Misfits in the US Army are sent to retrieve an Asian elephant, which is needed in a remote South Vietnamese village for a ceremony. Keeping the villagers happy means the Army can station a surveillance post there to spy on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Believing the mission is hopeless, Command aborts the mission, but the plucky squad put Honor Before Reason, and succeed in airlifting the elephant into the village. Disobeyed abort orders, succeeded gloriously, captured Nguyen and his men, bawled out but not punished.
  • Double Agent: Goddard, a Frenchman who keeps portraits of Lyndon B Johnson and Ho Chi Minh in a double-sided pictureframe.
    Goddard: What can I say? I love everybody.
  • Exactly What I Aimed At: On the river, H.A. nearly drops a marking shell on the boat he's riding in. The NVA laugh...until they realize that their boat is moving right into the spot H.A. just marked.
  • Fake in the Hole: Sorta. Doyle gets H.A. out of his tent by tossing in a real grenade, albeit without arming it.
    H.A.: GRENADE! Oh, that's really funny! (rushes out of his tent) Who's the hilarious son of a-- (sees Doyle, salutes) My mistake.
  • The General's Daughter: Actually, Poole just thought she was his daughter. Turned out to be his wife.
  • Gilligan Cut:
    Linh: You want good luck, you touch Bo Tat.
    H.A.: Yeah, right.
    (cut to H.A. walking with his hand on Bo Tat)
  • Highly-Conspicuous Uniform: The Vietcong soldiers, although their problem isn't the uniform.
    Cahill: They try to blend in, but they all got the same damn haircut.
  • Honor Before Reason: Upon learning that the mission's been scrubbed, The Squad decide that they need to finish what they started even if it is against orders and dangerous.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Cahill effectively fills in this role when Doyle gets given command of the mission, as it's Cahill's local knowledge and social connections that mean they're able to get anywhere (e.g. his knowing Poole, and more importantly being able to get him to do what the team need.
  • Immune to Bullets: Averted with the village's first elephant, but played straight in Bo Tat's backstory. She still carries scars from the bullets.
  • Instant Sedation: It actually takes a minute or two for the tranq pills to take effect, but they do worry about Bo Tat conking out before she gets on the plane, in which case they're screwed.
  • It's Raining Men: Five soldiers, one kid, and an elephant.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Attempted, but failed.
    Linh: They hit Linh this many times. (holds up ten fingers)
  • Jerkass Has a Point: The C-123 crew are simply stating the obvious when they scoff at the idea of flying with a live elephant in the back of the plane. When she wakes up in flight, their attempt to jettison the four-ton panicking pachyderm that’s about to crash the plane and kill them all is completely rational.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Poole. He really does care about others, but he doesn't want anybody knowing.
  • Kick the Dog:
  • Military Alphabet: NATO.
    H.A. (over radio): "Yeah, this is Hotel Alpha, who is this?"
  • A Minor Kidroduction: We first see Linh as a noticeably younger kid than he is in the rest of the movie.
  • Misfit Mobilization Moment: after hearing that their mission has been cancelled, Cahill decides to steal a vehicle and deliver Linh and Bo Tat anyway. Doyle stops him... to suggest they take a plane instead. Poole's down with it, as are Farley and H.A. A Lock-and-Load Montage ensues.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Mention is made of General "Kill 'em all and let God sort it out" Richardson.
  • Omniglot: Cahill can speak French and several Vietnamese native tongues.
  • Operation: [Blank]: "Dumbo Drop" in this case because they're dropping a "flying" elephant.
  • Parachute in a Tree: After everyone else lands safely in the village, H.A. is stuck in a tree outside it. This helps set up his Big Damn Heroes moment.
  • Pet the Dog: The bad guys get Bo Tat in their gunsights... and do not fire. The call not to fire was made by Lt. Quang, who was ordered to shoot the first elephant but never wanted to.
    Lt. Quang: I did not join this army to shoot elephants, especially ones that fly.
  • Product Delivery Ordeal: The US Army occupies a village overlooking the Ho Chi Minh Trail until Viet Kong forces overrun it, and slay the village's sacred elephant as a penalty. The Army decides to regain the trust of the locals by delivering a new elephant to them. Since the Viet Kong control all the approaches to the village, the only way to get the elephant there is by airdrop from a C-123.
  • Retirony: Lampshaded with H.A. who's a short-timer about to go home, and certain he's going to bite the big one right before he does, but ultimately averted. Cahill is also on his last tour.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: A straight example found in the hot-headed Doyle and the much-calmer Cahill.
  • Rock–Paper–Scissors: Cahill and Doyle use a variation to decide things like who's in charge of the op, or who gets to shove tranq pills up Bo Tat's ass.
  • Rule of Funny: A lot of stuff in this movie only works because the movie is a comedy.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: The reason they wind up dropping the elephant out of a plane is because it is the right thing despite their superiors telling them not to bother
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After the flatbed truck breaks down, Poole, fed up, tries to walk out on the rest of them.
  • A Simple Plan: The main plan: roll to the town with Bo Tat. Then vehicles start malfunctioning. And the elephant is scared. Then the Viet-Cong patrols start escalating. Then the mission gets shut down because of bean-counters. And in between... let's just say that nothing that these guys do ever goes according to plan despite how simple it sounded on paper.
  • Squick: In-Universe—Linh's reaction to Doyle performing the aforementioned Ass Shove: "You weird."
  • Tempting Fate: After Farley accidentally crushes the second tranq pill, Poole figures the first one will still last another hour—and then Bo Tat's trunk starts moving.
    Poole: I, ah...I was using the metric system.
  • Third-Person Person: Linh talks this way a lot, as his command of English is sketchy.
  • Toilet Humor:
    • Exhibit A are the tranq pills that have to be shoved up Bo Tat's rear end.
    • Exhibit B: the Road Apples that Bo Tat leaves in the flatbed truck. Naturally, people fall in them.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee:
    • While The Squad is on their way to pick up Bo Tat, Poole summarizes how he's lined everything up so they can get the elephant to Dak Neh in just a few hours, giving him plenty of time to enjoy his leave on Waikiki Beach. Of course, it ends up not being so simple.
    • Doyle gives an En Route Sum-Up on how the para-jumping into Dak Neh is supposed to go. Like everything else on their adventure, things start going wrong.
  • You No Take Candle: The Vietnamese in the movie speak with various levels of knowing English. Linh's got a piecemeal grasp of it.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Twice, first after Doyle gets off of a hair-raising Helicopter ride, and then when Bo Tat gets seasick during the river chase. The second one is downplayed. We see Bo Tat open her mouth, then a cutaway, then a massive wave of vomit, then another cutaway to Poole wincing, then we see the vomit hit the deck.
  • War Is Hell
    Y B'ham: (about Linh) Boy has no family. All killed.
    Doyle: In the war?
    Y B'ham: No, hit by falling star. (confused silence) Yes, in war.
    Cahill: Which side?
    Y B'ham: It matter?
  • We Help the Helpless: Linh and Bo Tat go to help some villagers pull a massive stump out of the ground. In return they get use of their 16-foot flatbed truck.
  • Worthy Opponent: Nguyen congratulates our heroes for getting Bo Tat to Dak Neh, even though he doesn't plan to spare their lives.