Disney and Pixar movies have presented charming and endearing family movies. Their approach to storytelling lies in using talking animals and imaginative sequences that fascinate the audience. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinnochio, which was recently released on Netflix, embraces the world of animation and fantasy by interpolating classic stories that explore grief and loss. In the streaming giant’s newest animation venture, Wendy Rogers’ The Magician’s Elephant approaches this by introducing a fantastical world with a sentimental message of family and togetherness.
The small, peaceful town of Baltese was once filled with magic. When war broke out, the town was perpetually covered by clouds, while the citizens feared for their lives and lost hope for the future. Peter (voiced by Noah Jupe) is raised by an old, stern soldier, Vilna (voiced by Mandy Patinkin). Despite his strict upbringing and his family dying during the war, the young boy remains kind. One day, Peter finds a mysterious red tent in the town centre. He meets a fortune teller (voiced by Natasia Demetriou, also the narrator). Peter finds out that his younger sister, who Vilna said had died, is still alive. The fortune teller tells young Peter to “follow the elephant” if he wishes to find his sister.
However, there are no elephants in the small town of Baltese; but when a local, inept magician (voiced by Benedict Wong) conjures an elephant from the clouds, Peter’s fate changes. After the elephant is placed in the palace, Peter is determined to free it so it can guide him to find his long-lost sister. But the king (voiced by Aasif Mandvi), who loves to be entertained, assigns three impossible tasks to Peter. If the young boy succeeds, the king will allow him to keep the elephant.
The Magician’s Elephant is charming and shows a lot of creatively imaginative scenes that look straight out of a storybook. The animated movie is an adaptation of two-time Newbery Award winner, Kate DiCamillo. It presents stories where young children can solve problems and mysteries through community and hope, and perhaps in this case, also an elephant.
While telling the story through the perspective of Peter and the townspeople, Rogers also shifts the point of view to the elephant. The audience sees the world through the elephant’s eyes; by witnessing their world and exploring the layers of its feelings. There are scenes of the elephant dreaming of being reunited in the clouds with its herd. It’s a beautiful dreamlike sequence, where the elephants are floating through the clouds and submerge into the ocean. Even though the elephant in captivity has no name, Rogers shows that it, too, has feelings. The movie explores whether the magician should take responsibility for his actions or not; while also understanding that it’s not up to the people to decide what happens to it.
What drives the story of The Magician’s Elephant is Peter’s three impossible tasks. Each of them is challenging and engaging enough for young audiences. Rogers creates fantastic action sequences, while some of them might be a bit long and slows down the pacing of the narrative. Regardless, the movie never wastes its time. Even with the extremely predictable narrative structure, the animated movie finds the time to convey a sentimental message.
The Magician’s Elephant doesn’t have a compelling story; the predictable outcome is a bit disappointing. It’s a family-friendly animated movie that is most likely to resonate with younger audiences. It is a whimsical and fun movie that focuses on presenting the world with positive solutions with a brilliant sense of adventure and courage.