The latest Netflix Original animated film, The Magician’s Elephant, is now streaming globally, but should you give it a watch? Here’s our PLAY, PAUSE or STOP review of the new feature film which arrived on Netflix today.
Set in the fictional small European town of Baltese, where the impossible seemed possible before the Great Foreign War shrouded it in perpetual grayness, the film centers around young orphan boy Peter who lost his mother and sister during that same war period. He is being raised by the aging soldier who saved him many years ago, Vilna, but he has always thought his sister might still be out there despite the insistence of his guardian that they have passed on.
One day, on his routine trip to the Market Square, Peter encounters a fortune teller who promises to answer life’s most difficult questions for the small price of one coin. Risking the only coin he had that was meant for dinner with Vilna, Peter antes up to ask the question that has plagued him for years: How do I find my sister?
To which the Fortune Teller replied: “Follow The Elephant.”
The film is based on the children’s novel of the same name by Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo, whose work has been adapted to film several times including her first published novel “Because of Winn-Dixie” that was made into a film back in 2005.
The Magician’s Elephant marks the feature film debut for director Wendy Rogers. She was a long-time Visual VFX Supervisor who found a niche in animation, working on such prominent films as Shrek, Flushed Away, & Puss In Boots.
To create the film, Rogers paired up with Animal Logic, the Australian Visual EFX & Animation Studio who was recently acquired by Netflix in a cash deal just last year. Animal Logic was the animation studio for such notable films as The Lego Batman Movie, Peter Rabbit, & DC League of Super-Pets. They are also the studio behind the upcoming Adam Sandler Netflix Animated Film, Leo, which will arrive on the platform in Fall 2023.
While I was skeptical about the film due to its lack of marketing & fanfare from Netflix and a first-time director, I was pleasantly surprised by this utterly charming creation.
While “wish fulfillment” stories have been around for ages, The Magician’s Elephant brings a layered approach to its unfolding. While it does have its heart with the orphan boy seeking family reunification, it also has a surprising amount of humor and a game element with the impossible tasks Peter has to perform to set the elephant he so desperately needs free.
While the animation is solid enough, I believe the stand-out pieces that buoy the film are the memorable characters accompanied by impressive voiceover acting performances.
The film is narrated by the previously mentioned Fortune Teller voiced by the perfectly snarky Natasia Demetriou (Nadja in What We Do In The Shadows). Noah Jupe (A Quiet Place films) provides relentless hope & youthful exuberance with his performance of Peter. Legend of stage & screen Mandy Patinkin (The Princess Bride, Homeland) graces us with the range of emotions required to bring life to Sgt. Lutz. The need for a soldier’s pride & structure balanced with the heartbreak of choices during wartime and the delight in the tedium of small-town retirement make for the perfect sounding board for Peter. Oscar nominee Brian Tyree Henry (Causeway, Bullet Train) stirs up the whimsical nature of this film with the unreasonably hopeful Officer Leo. MCU star Benedict Wong (Doctor Strange, Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) brings his mystical art prowess to his role as The Magician. And last but certainly not least, former “Daily Show” correspondent Aasif Mandvi breathes life at the perfect time with his fun-loving, eccentric characterization of The King who makes Peter fulfill the impossible tasks that keep the audience engaged throughout the story.
Though I have come to understand that DiCamillo’s children’s tale may be a tad more somber in tone while focusing on the post-war depression of the town, I didn’t have any issue with the mood & feel Rogers conveyed with her version. Rogers does well enough in the opening narration to give us a proper summation of events that has led to the dour environment from which the story’s setting provides. While a film like Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio will dive head first into fascism and war-torn climates in a traditional children’s tale, many parents may breathe a sigh of relief that the director chose to be more subtle with the heavier subject matter. The use of perpetual cloud cover, the flashbacks of how Peter came to be separated from his sister, & the loss of laughter from The Countess give the audience just enough color for what has plagued this town before the arrival of The Magician and his elephant.
Overall, The Magician’s Elephant gives us an original fairy tale that brings out the child in all of us. The central themes of Hope and the Belief in the Impossible mixed with indelible characters make this film a cut above for Netflix Original Animation.
Watch The Magician’s Elephant on Netflix If You Like
- The Tale of Despereaux
- Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio
- Wish Dragon
MVP of The Magician’s Elephant
Aasif Mandvi as The King.
After a first act filled mostly with set-up for Peter’s journey, Aasif Mandvi’s King character jumps into the story with the spirit of a child on Christmas morning. His gleeful nature and quest for over-the-top theatrics bring this movie into a whole new level of delight for its audience.
PLAY, PAUSE, OR STOP? The Magician’s Elephant on Netflix
A simple tale of hope, belief, and reunification for the whole family to enjoy.
What did you think about The Magician’s Elephant on Netflix? Let us know in the comments down below.
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