Disney’s documentary Elephant is a story worth watching
Meghan Markle light-heartedly narrates the journey of one-year-old elephant calf Jomo as the makers keep the tone of the documentary film suitable for children
In a world filled with tales about humans, films about animals stand apart, and it is an added treat when they are true stories. In Disneynature’s latest documentary Elephant, Meghan Markle light-heartedly narrates the journey of one-year-old elephant calf Jomo across the Kalahari Desert in Africa. Director Mark Linfield keeps the tone of the film suitable for children and steers clear of graphic scenes when conveying the harsh realities of survival in the wild.
The stunning visuals, however, are a delight for audiences of all ages. On the lines of Lion King, Elephant too opens with similar music courtesy of Ramin Djawadi and raw sounds of nature in the background. From eagle’s view of the mass exodus of animals to underwater shots of elephants swimming across a river in a bid for survival, the documentary has it all.
Jomo effortlessly steals our heart right from the first scene, and not knowing how or whether the vulnerable calf will survive the thousand-mile migration over a period of eight months keeps our interest alive throughout. The introductory scene of the elephant family shows Jomo in the company of his mother Shani and his herd, headed by the matriarch Gaia. The playful side of the gentle giants basking in the sunlight in a mud puddle and the narrator’s reaction to elephant farts are sure to leave the audience smiling. This is immediately followed by a life-threatening situation. The storyline sticks to this format, more or less. Life in the wild is not overly romanticised; the dark sides are depicted too, but subtly, keeping in mind the audience.
Direction: Mark Linfield
Narration: Meghan Markle
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
Endurance, strength, love, and family are some common values that children’s movies attempt to tell. The makers of Elephant couldn’t have asked for a better subject for their story as these elephants are symbolic of all these characteristics. Lines such as ‘For elephants, family is everything’ and ‘Social life is like oxygen to these animals’ bring their ways of life closer to that of humans. While slipping in facts about the survival techniques of these elephants and the co-existence of wildlife, there’s also an overarching message of the wisdom that these animals possess as the documentary traces their adventures.
Elephant educates as simply as it can while telling a story with subtle elements of suspense, tragedy, heroism and happiness without straying too much from its genre. However, the editing of a sequence in which Gaia recalls the routes for a round trip from the Okavango Delta to Zambezi river, through which she has migrated for generations, almost makes you forget this is a documentary. Gone are the days when documentaries were considered drab. The filming of these animals, which is clearly no mean task, gets a special mention towards the end too.
The excitement of the giants as they see water, their playful nature, tenacity to keep moving ahead when in dire need of water and eventually a death, all in the backdrop of harsh survival conditions at one of the driest places in the world, reminds us nature is not kind.
It's a story that could’ve easily taken a darker turn but the makers consciously keep it warm and light by focusing the narrative primarily on Jomo. The documentary is certainly enjoyable, but the narration relies a bit too much on the adorability of these animals, overselling it at times.
Keeping in mind these are some of the last elephants in the world making these epic migrations over thousands of miles in the footsteps of their ancestors, it’s a story that deserves to be heard and yet fails to etch a strong message in our minds. Though it’s a documentary film, watching the gigantic African elephants survive the tides of nature in all their glory in the wild made me wish I could’ve watched it in a theatre.