The Magician's Elephant Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
This Netflix animation has its heart in the right place, yet misses a compelling plot & more interesting characters. The visual design, however, is gorgeous!
Genre: Animation / Adventure / Fantasy
Director: Wendy Rogers
Cast: Noah Jupe, Mandy Patinkin, Brian Tyree Henry, Sian Clifford, Pixie Davies, Dawn French, Benedict Wong, Aasif Mandvi & Natasia Demetriou.
Run Time: 103 min.
US Release: 10 March 2023 (limited)
UK Release: 17 March 2023 (Netflix)
German Release: 17 March 2023 (Netflix)
While I had planned to review The Amazing Maurice as my first animated feature of the year, I still had no chance to catch a screening. As such, this Netflix production will be my opening computer cartoon review of 2023! An adaptation of the 2009 novel of the same name, this project was designed by Australian production company Animal Logic, who worked on The Lego Movies, Peter Rabbit, as well as DCs League of Super-Pets from last year. The question remains, is it worth watching? Grab a balloon as we float around my review for… The Magician's Elephant!
A stubborn boy must complete three impossible tasks, assigned by the king. In return, he will receive a magical elephant that is tied to the chance of fulfilling his destiny.
An announcement to adapt Kate DiCamillo’s children's book was made on August 17th 2009, even before the release of the novel. Martin Haynes was hired to write the script, with former Nickelodeon Movies producer Julia Pistor attached as producer. After stagnating in development hell for nearly ten years, Pistor finally took the project to the streaming platform Netflix, which acquired the film rights to the book and screenplay.
I have never read the novel so I can’t compare it to this adaptation. That said, the script is the weakest aspect of this animated feature! The pacing is constantly disrupted by the narrator who is breaking the fourth wall. The unestablished world-building is rushed, while the general storyline lacks magic. In short, it is hard to connect with the scenario and its characters, as it feels unstructured, dragging a little in its first thirty-to-fifty minutes. In that time frame, it also isn’t made clear where the flick is heading.
However, it does contain an inspiring fairytale-like message for children, about how nothing is truly impossible; dreamers managed to invent or create what was thought to be unable to exist. The narrative becomes also more accessible, around the fifty-minute mark, once the premise’s heart and soul is revealed to be that of family belonging. The further that aspect is explored, the more warm-hearted it becomes.
The dialogue is surprisingly adult, not talking down to children, though the inclusion of a narrator does break the immersion of experience, by dumping exposition, as well as being a little self-aware of its uncanny fairytale-like ambience. The jokes are also a little flat.
Focusing mostly on beating its message over the audience’s head, The Magician’s Elephant never truly took its time to round off its personas properly. Unfortunately, they all come off as superficial figures that are moved from field to field, as to accomplish what has been set out to tell.
Peter, who is voiced by a solid Noah Jupe, has set out to obtain the elephant because the animal is supposed to lead the path towards his long-lost sister. The problem is that he comes off as pretentious plus overdramatic for the longest time. His sister Adele, spoken by a sweet Pixie Davies, is barely in the film
Brian Tyree Henry, who is lending his voice to Leo Matienne, Peter’s downstairs neighbour, is more of an optimistic and lively person. In fact, he is quite possibly the best rounded-off character, which isn’t saying much.
Mandy Patinkin was cast to speak the role of former army Sgt. Lutz, Peter’s surrogate “father” figure, who is trying to mould him into a hard soldier without dreams, because that would make one soft. Lutz is just another one-dimensional character, added to the narrative. Dawn French as Sister Marie, is the surrogate “mother” figure for Adele. An overly obnoxious woman, who is even afraid of a “hello” from a stranger.
Aasif Mandvi as the King is too silly and cartoonish. Kirby Howell-Baptiste plays the Countess, the royalty of Baltese, who was stripped completely of all happiness, unable to laugh. She also sounds terribly monotonous.
Benedict Wong is wasted as the Magician. That character is sidelined for the largest portion of the runtime, having been incarcerated after conjuring an elephant. All he was aspiring to do, is to return a little joy to the populace.
The animation is the highlight of this production, with big-name Animal Logic behind its creation. The background design of Baltese is very detailed, containing a European-like look in structure and architecture. The surrounding area has been given a lot of depth, adding to the immersion of it being large. As a whole, it does feel like a breathing, functioning city, though its realistic look, as well as that of the elephant’s design, clashed a little with the more abstract design of the characters.
The colour palette, strong during the quick introduction, is muted as hope is taken away from the people, with pessimism settling in. This is also reflected in the lighting, which is dulled down. Both aspects gradually enhance, as Peter sets out on completing the king’s impossible tasks.
Verdict: After last year’s exhilarating The Sea Beast, I was looking forward to seeing this animated adaptation of Kate DiCamillo’s priced novel. Sadly, the trailers gave too much away, nonetheless, the animation looked intriguing and the story engaging. After seeing it on Netflix’s platform, I need to confess that I was left a little disappointed once the credits rolled. While the design plus look of the city of Baltese is stunningly detailed and realistic, with the colour palette underlining some of the plot arcs, it is the abstract outline of the characters that clash with the rest. The renditions are mostly fine, yet some might not suit the tone of the overall narrative. The characters are not explored enough, but worse is the screenplay, which rushes through the worldbuilding, to get straight to its lesson. It ain’t bad, simply missing the great potential it had, as it fumbles its execution. As such, I can’t give The Magician’s Elephant more than a 6.5 out of 10.
What did you think of Netflix’s new animation? Did you enjoy it? Leave a comment in the section below & as always thank you for reading!