REVIEW: ‘The Magician’s Elephant’ Is A Flat And Meandering Adaptation

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The Magician’s Elephant - But Why Tho

Directed by first-time feature filmmaker Wendy Rogers and based on the 2009 novel by Kate DiCamillo, Netflix’s animated film The Magician’s Elephant fails to inspire any sense of wonder. Flat and angular with no visual depth, it contains all the pieces of what often makes for a strong fantasy narrative but squanders any strong foundational aspects it had with a vacant and soulless adaptation. It doesn’t matter much if all the components are within reach if the script can’t manage to make us care. Granted, the film falters in ways that go beyond the script, but with sturdier writing, The Magician’s Elephant might’ve salvaged some waxy animation and stilted visuals. 

Noah Jupe voices Peter, an orphan who has been raised to become a soldier, believing his family died when he was young. However, after a run-in with a fortune teller, he learns that his sister is still alive and out there, and all he has to do to find her is follow the elephants, an animal believed to not exist. As one might guess based on the name alone, at least one does, and to pursue his goal he’s challenged with three impossible tasks for the chance of the impossible quest he finds himself on. 

In a way, it’s kind of a sign of the times in terms of all of what challenges modern family-geared animation. It reeks of a need to not be taken too seriously as if the creators are worried if they don’t include a wink and a nudge here and there regarding them being in on the “kids film” angle, it won’t be taken as seriously. This means it never feels like the film takes its story seriously, announced obnoxiously and early through biting and cynical narration. It wants to appeal to kids, but not just kids, and it wants to appeal to adults, but not bore the kids, and that level of clinical calculation renders a picture that appeals to no one. It’s a shame, because as members of the audience, we’re always in such dire need of the right magical story of epic fantasy, grandiose worlds, and imaginative protagonists and villains. 

The animation style possesses a bizarre and uncanny severity where the character designs clash with the scenery. The Magician’s Elephant doesn’t so much demand time to become used to the harsh style but instead begs the question of why this style was chosen in the first place. The use of computer animation, despite some fine facial feature work that allows micro-expressions to shine through, dates the film immediately. It’s simply too clunky and at odds with the story it’s telling here, where it may have made more sense to incorporate more traditional styles. As it is, there’s no real weight or movement behind the characters, and even the elephant itself appears to drift rather than make solid contact with the ground it treads. 

Where the film succeeds is in its baseline concept and, most notably, a strong cast of voice actors who deliver as much warmth and humanity into a film that gives them little to run with. Jupe anchors the film while talents such as Benedict Wong, Bryan Tyree Henry, Natasia Demetriou, and Aasif Mandvi round the cast out with experienced actors who all possess a great understanding of how to utilize their voices.

There’s a reason these types of stories, on paper, do so well. They have that very specific ability to whisk viewers away and bring us somewhere new for a while. The Magician’s Elephant spends too much time on solid ground, too much time dragging its feet as it inches toward a forward momentum, and fails to recognize the elements such as going bigger and bolder that would enliven the entirety of the project. 

From a script that lacks any warmth or spark, a meandering narrative, and animation that is distracting, rather than engaging, The Magician’s Elephant doesn’t succeed in capturing the imagination. 

The Magician’s Elephant is streaming now on Netflix.

The Magician's Elephant
  • 4.5/10
    Rating - 4.5/10


From a script that lacks any warmth or spark, a meandering narrative, and animation that is distracting, rather than engaging, The Magician’s Elephant doesn’t succeed in capturing the imagination.

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