The film, which premieres Friday on Disney Plus, is perfect for the whole family. It transports viewers to Africa, where we meet a herd of elephants on their monthslong journey to find water.
While the focus is on one herd, three main characters (also the only three elephants with names) take center stage: Gaia, the 50-year-old matriarch, her sister Shani, who is 40, and Shani’s adorable 1-year-old son, Jomo.
During the documentary’s 86-minute run time (with plenty of cute bloopers and moments at the end), the film makes it almost possible to forget the state of the world around us.
It’s fun to see Jomo, the youngest elephant of the crew, splashing and wriggling around in the mud, chasing warthogs and climbing on other members of his herd when he gets a little too excited during a “pool party.” The cinematography is stunning, and the score ― because this is Disney, after all ― feels magical.
As the elephants traverse hundreds of miles of desert to get to their eventual destination, the Zambezi River, fun and humorous instances (like one elephant passing gas) are mixed in with tough, emotional moments that warrant some tears.
Meghan’s animated, engaging narration complements a Disney film that is more lighthearted than a typical nature documentary. At times, the Duchess of Sussex is energetic and playful; at other times, she’s appropriately measured and emotional. You’d expect such spirited reactions when, say, a crocodile leaps out at antelope.
Considering this is a voiceover role well within her professional, pre-royal skill set, it’s clear some critics are placing their preconceived notions of Meghan, the duchess, ahead of the simple fact that this is a Disney documentary about a family of elephants. It’s not “Planet Earth,” nor is it trying to be.
Others have said the storyline of “Elephant” is too contrived and that certain interactions are too edited. And yes — it’s unclear if an elephant fell over because another one farted, or if that scene was spliced together. Are members of the herd really happy to reunite with family on their journey to get water? We don’t know the inner thoughts of an elephant. But this would also be a far less gripping 86 minutes of footage if not for the colorful commentary.
And while the movie is about elephants, it’s hard not to see parallels to the royal family. When Meghan mentions the “great matriarch Gaia” early on, it’s easy to picture Queen Elizabeth II. The duchess’ voice lights up introducing Jomo, the 1-year-old who “is a handful” and “one of the youngest of the herd” — just like her son Archie is the youngest of the current royals. And when Meghan mentions that Jomo isn’t even entirely sure he’s an elephant yet, one thinks of the fact that Archie is certainly unaware that he’s royalty.
But whether you’re interested in the royal family or not, the documentary is still a fun trip to take from your couch. The elephants are impossible not to fall in love with, and, as with most Disney films, there’s a happy ending.
Stream it Friday, April 3, on Disney Plus.
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