The Magician's Elephant Movie Parent Review

Directed by first-time director Wendy Rogers and based on the 2009 novel by Kate DiCamillo, the Netflix animated movie The Magician's Elephant inspires no sense of wonder. 

Flat and angular, with no visual depth, it contains all the elements that often make for a strong fantasy story, but squanders all the fundamental aspects it had with an empty, soulless adaptation. It doesn't matter that all the elements are at hand if the script fails to hold our interest. 

The Magician's Elephant Movie Parent Review

True, the film suffers from weaknesses that go beyond the script, but with stronger writing, The Magician's Elephant could have salvaged some waxy animation and stilted visuals. 

Noah Jupe plays Peter, an orphan who was raised to be a soldier, believing his family died when he was young. However, after an encounter with a fortune teller, he learns that his sister is still alive and all he has to do is follow the elephants, an animal that was thought to be nonexistent, to find her. 

As one can guess from the name alone, at least one of them exists, and to achieve his goal, he must complete three impossible challenges for the chance to complete the impossible quest he has embarked on.

The Magician's Elephant Movie Review

In a way, this is a sign of the times in terms of the challenges posed to modern family leadership. It smacks of the need not to be taken too seriously, as if the creators are afraid they won't be taken seriously if they don't include a wink and a nod here and there about the fact that they are in the "kids' movie" angle. 

This means that it never feels like the film is taking its story seriously, obnoxiously and prematurely announced through biting and cynical narration. The film wants to appeal to children, but not only, and it wants to appeal to adults, but without annoying the children, and this level of clinical calculation makes for a picture that appeals to no one. It's a shame, because as viewers, we still need a magical story of epic fantasy, grand worlds and imaginative protagonists and villains.

The Magician's Elephant Movie Parent

The animation style has a bizarre and disturbing severity where the character design clashes with the scenery. The Magician's Elephant doesn't take so much time to get used to this severe style as it does to question why this style was chosen. 

The use of computer animation, despite some nice facial features that allow micro-expressions to shine, dates the film immediately. It's just too clunky and at odds with the story being told here, where it would have made more sense to incorporate more traditional styles. As it is, there is no real weight or movement behind the characters, and even the elephant itself seems to be drifting rather than having solid contact with the ground it is treading. 

The Magician's Elephant Movie Official Trailer

Where the film succeeds is in its basic concept and, most notably, with a strong cast of voice actors who bring so much warmth and humanity to a film that hardly gives them any. Jupe is the mainstay of the film, while talents such as Benedict Wong, Bryan Tyree Henry, Natasia Demetriou and Aasif Mandvi round out the cast with experienced actors who all have a great understanding of how to use their voices.

There's a reason these types of stories, on paper, do so well. They have that very specific ability to sweep the audience away and take them to a new place for a while. 

The Magician's Elephant spends too much time on dry land, too much time dragging its feet as it builds toward forward momentum, and fails to recognize the elements such as enlargement and boldness that would bring the whole project to life. 

With a script that lacks warmth or spark, a narrative that wanders, and animation that distracts rather than engages, The Magician's Elephant fails to capture the imagination.

The Magician's Elephant Movie Parent Guide

Peter (Noah Jupe), an orphan, lives a frugal, regimented life under the watchful eye of his guardian, Sergeant Lutz (Mandy Patinkin), who believes that the child should be raised as a soldier. In a moment of wonder, Peter visits a fortune teller (Natasia Demetriou) to ask if his sister, of whom he has only vague memories, is still alive. 

The mysterious woman not only confirms that she is alive, but claims that Peter can find her by following an elephant. Since there are no elephants near the city, Peter loses hope in the veracity of the woman's prediction.

Meanwhile, a magician accidentally makes an elephant appear during a show, much to the surprise of the entire town. Thinking that his destiny is on the march, Peter tries to seize the elephant, but is prevented by the local leaders, who plan to slaughter the lost pachyderm. In desperation, Peter makes a deal to complete three impossible tasks in order to take possession of the elephant that he believes will change his life. But as he undertakes these impossible tasks, he begins to see very different changes in the city.

The Magician's Elephant Movie

I have not read the novel on which this adaptation is based, but I have read other works by Kate DiCamillo so I am familiar with her style. The greatest strength of this production, due I think to the original book, is the simplicity of the story. 

There aren't really any subplots or complicated story lines: the film has a straightforward beginning, middle and end structure, much like a fairy tale. This may sound boring, but this simplicity allows the writers to focus on the emotions and message of the story in a way that is easily understood and appreciated by children.

For children who enjoy fairy tales or simple adventures, The Magician's Elephant is a fantastic production with beautiful images, excellent voice acting, and inspiring themes around belief and hope. Parents will also appreciate the lack of negative content. 

As a reviewer, I might complain about the 3D animation and some of the design choices, but I don't think that is necessary. Sometimes a simple fairy tale is more than enough to inspire and entertain.

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