Disney+ film review: Elephant (2020)
James R | On 04, Apr 2020
The word “Disney” conjures up all kinds of movie memories for audiences worldwide. From The Lion King and The Jungle Book to The Aristocats, many of them involve animals, some talking, some singing and some singing and dancing. The word “Disneynature”, though, is one that’s less familiar. It spells a similar mix of animals that might not talk, sing and dance, but certainly try their hardest to pull at your heartstrings.
The documentary follows a herd of African elephants who are facing a growing shortage of water. And so they embark on an epic migration across the Kalahari Desert. The journey of several hundred miles takes them from the Okavango Delta to the Zambezi river. It’s one that the herd have undertaken many times before over the generations, looking to avoid the dry season in Botswana by stomping over to the Victoria Falls.
That sense of tradition is the focal point of the film, which introduces us to matriarch Gaia, the elderly veteran of the pack, who leads a group that includes her son, Jomo, and her sister, Shani. Of course, none of these elephants actually go by these names, and those monikers have been chosen by the crew filming them.
That balance between anthropomorphic projection and factual content is always at the heart of a Disneynature project, and Elephant often threatens to trample into overly sentimental territory. Fortunately, there are two weapons in Elephant’s arsenal that help to balance things to the right side of the scales. Firstly, the stunning wildlife footage shot by directors Mark Linfield, Vanessa Berlowitz and Alastair Fothergill, which captures such remarkable details as the elephants getting water out of tree back, rescuing a calf out of a deceptively muddy pool and – best of all – gleefully charging into water and playing with each other.
The other is the voice of Meghan Markle, who narrates the whole affair. She’s pitched as the selling angle by Disney+ and it’s understandable why: the Duchess of Sussex’s voice is, as you’d expect from a Disney princess, delightfully animated, managing to coo and smile her way through the even the most unsubtle lines. And there are a lot of unsubtle lines. The result is an endearingly educational watch suitable for the whole family and, like the best of Disney, isn’t afraid to tug at your heartstrings. Occasionally, a little too hard.
Elephant (2020) is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription. New episodes arrive weekly on Fridays.