Film Review: The Magician’s Elephant

Year: 2023

Runtime: 99 minutes

Director: Wendy Rogers

Writers: Martin Hynes (Screenplay by), Kate DiCamillo (based on the book by)

Actors: Noah Jupe, Brian Tyree Henry, Mandy Patinkin, Natasia Demetriou, Benedict Wong

By Tom Moore

The directorial debut of Wendy Rogers, “The Magician’s Elephant,” is a quaint, animated tale about the seemingly impossible being possible that’s easy to like even if it suffers from some poorly conceived dialogue and storytelling choices.

The film, based on Kate DiCamillo’s 2009 novel of the same name, follows a young orphan named Peter (voiced by Noah Jupe) who yearns to find lost sister Adele (voiced by Pixie Davies). When Peter visits a fortune teller (voiced by Natasia Demetriou) one day, she tells him that an elephant will lead him to his sister and, as fate would have it, a magician’s (voiced by Benedict Wong) latest trick causes an elephant to appear. Unfortunately for Peter, the narcissistic King (voiced by Aasif Mandvi) will only let him have the elephant if he completes three “impossible” tasks for his amusement. Thus, Peter accepts the challenge and attempts to complete the tasks before the elephants is discarded by the townsfolk who fear it.

“The Magician’s Elephant” establishes itself well as a grounded fairy tale with an interesting atmosphere that connects to Peter’s personal journey. With the town’s sense of wonder and magic being crushed by harsh wartimes, there is a dour feel to Peter’s village that was once filled with hope. It’s not to say that everyone is filled with dread and dourness since Peter can have jovial interactions, but that sense of spark with the village and its people does feel drained a bit. That’s what makes the community slowly rallying around Peter as he completes the tasks meaningful as his determination to make the impossible possible restores some of that lost magic. It gives them a renewed sense of hope that adds more impact to Peter’s actions and helps engage viewers more into the sequences of Peter completing the tasks.

Overall, the story is a relatively simple one that sees Peter attempt to come out of this challenge victorious and it doesn’t take too many deviations from that. The subplots that are there honestly aren’t all that special and memorable compared to the central plot, but watching Peter’s story unfold is enough to keep audiences invested. Each task is very satisfying and fun to watch happen as it not only tests Peter’s ability to find alternative ways to win but also tests his desires to find his sister. It’s a heartwarming tale of belief and action that audiences of all ages can easily enjoy.

The animation is equally as simple as its story but has some moments that flex some magic – both mystical and grounded. The film can showcase some stunning fantasy visuals that come from the elephant’s journey there and the dreamlike sequences the film can have. There’s also some great grounded visuals that come from Peter completing the second task and some of the more action-oriented moments. The character designs are also nice and are matched by solid performances from the noteworthy ensemble the film has.

The main issues that “The Magician’s Elephant” suffers from are the more modern dialogue and the overuse of narration. The film has a narrator who opens the film and periodically chimes in. The use of a narrator feels unneeded because of how simple the story is to follow and her dialogue is just not great. It tries way too hard to be clever and funny resulting in it coming off awkward and wildly generic. The narration also tries too hard to feel modern in an attempt to be more engaging and ends up being annoying to listen to. The same can be said for how other characters, mainly The King, feel in their dialogue. The more modern sounding dialogue really adds nothing to the film and feels like an unnecessary attempt to connect with younger audiences. The way dialogue sounds doesn’t fit the setting much making it stand out in a bad way and deliver jokes that fall flat.

“The Magician’s Elephant” isn’t without some writing and storytelling shortcomings, but that doesn’t keep it from being a fun and engaging tale of triumph that all audiences can enjoy and be touched by.

3.5 stars


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