Elephant (2020) Review

Elephant (2020)
A herd of elephants cross the Kalahari Desert to Victoria Falls in search of water.

by Ian Freer |
Published on
Release Date:

03 Apr 2020

Original Title:

Elephant (2020)

For years, Disney True Life Adventures — nature flicks for kids — were fixtures at cinemas, pretty much always featuring images of scorpions cut to square-dance-calling. Continuing this tradition on Disney+, Elephant trades in a likeable but lightweight vein. It’s USP is that it is narrated by Suits actor Meghan Markle (here credited as Meghan, Duchess Of Sussex), her excitable tones a perfect fit for the natural-history-with-the-edges-shaved off remit.

Structurally, it’s a bit like Mad Max: Fury Road — albeit a million times slower — as the elephants wander out into the desert and then wander all the way back again. The action starts in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, a lush paradise that once a year turns to dust, forcing the herd to traverse the Kalahari drinking from one water hole to the other. The journey is being led by 50-year old matriarch Gaia, an old hand at this (Meghan) malarkey, whose sister Shani, a spring chicken at 40, has her trunk full with with one-year-old Jomo.

Elephant (2020) Disney

As the trek unfolds, there are moments of drama (a baby Elephant is stuck in the mud, the shortcut home crosses lion country), scares (they find an elephant skull) and fun (warthog shenanigans) but the overall effect is an uneventful, repetitive sortie. Most of the memorable moments come from the supporting players; Carmine Bee-Eater birds, who in such bright colours are the RuPaul of the Kalahari, and the stunningly textured Mopane Worms, a species of Emperor Moth who, like Sam Rockwell, effortlessly steal scenes from the lead characters.

As is the Disney way, the animals are ascribed human emotions, traits and behaviours that may grate for the more scientifically minded. One recurring device sees a zoom into Shani’s eye and quick cutting of landscapes and animals as if she is remembering what her ancestors have taught her. For her part, Markle’s delivery of the commentary is wholesome and over-eager to please (“It’s time for a pool party!” “Wait a minute! Who’s this guy?” “Oh, look who’s cut in front of the line? Oh, Jomo!”) but just about stays the right side of annoying.

It’s all amiably put together by Mark Linfield, Vanessa Berlowitz, Alastair Forhergill of the BBC Natural History Unit. There are some stunning top shots of elephant path, some nifty Pachyderm facts (elephants can eat the equivalent of 2000 cheeseburgers at a time) and Game Of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi provides a colourful score, bookended by Lion King-esque vocal stylings. If you’re still with it by the end credits, there’s fun BTS footage of cameras strapped to helicopter rotors and tracking elephants by taste-testing dung. If the main feature is fun for the very young, the Making Of might have been more fascinating for the rest of us.

A fun diversion for the kids, but you feel Attenborough could have packaged these often beautifully produced images with more rigour and insight in under an hour.
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