For some strange reason, the animation segment of Netflix has a bad reputation, despite having several gems such as Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio and My Father’s Dragon. All things considered, The Magician’s Elephant could have ended up falling in this category. The film boasts some big-name talent amongst its voice cast that includes Noah Jupe and Bryan Tyree Henry, in addition to having a concise premise rife for exploration and magical realism. Lest we forget about the horrible direct-to-video animation misfires of the early 2000s, The Magician’s Elephant is here to remind us that their quality and conveyor-belt feel have unfortunately not come to a complete close. Hell, even the much-maligned ugly-animation 2009 flick Doogal has more going for it in terms of both visual flair and storytelling.
Young orphan Peter (Jupe) was told all his life that his sister and mother sadly perished. He has been raised by an old soldier, who insists that life runs on bread and small fish. One day, when Peter is sent into town to purchase food for them, he comes upon a massive, mysterious red tent that promises to answer a major question at the cost of only one coin! Taking the chance, Peter sees the fortune teller, and walks away with a couple of big revelations. Firstly, it would appear that Peter’s sister is actually still alive! When Peter asks the question of where to find her, he is informed that he must “follow the elephant.” That is a phrase that would immediately facilitate concern in a town such as Baltese, which has long ago lost its magical qualities. The old soldier grumbles that Peter has wasted his money on nothing but a fairy tale. There are no elephants in this town, the man insists. Jack and the beanstalk, anyone?
A fading magician is about to change it all when he accidentally causes an elephant to pop out of thin air and crush an old woman’s legs during his demonstration. The woman wants nothing more than to see the magician behind bars, and the elephant killed. The elephant herself is painted with a vibrant, colorful design, soon washed away during an incident wherein Peter comes to her defense. In order to keep the elephant and follow her to his alleged sister’s whereabouts, a proposal is made for Peter to complete “three impossible tasks.” These range from fighting the toughest soldier to making someone laugh, and not a one of them leaves much of an impression.
Somehow, The Magician’s Elephant is based on a novel by Kate DiCamillo. One would never know it is based on a preexisting property considering the simplicity of the story, and the unwillingness to do anything new with a predictable premise. A tired CG-animation style is nearly as generic as the tale itself—nothing about The Magician’s Elephant feels singular or unique in the slightest. Younger kiddies may delight in the cheesiness, while any adult will shudder at the major direct-to-video vibes.
Take a ride on The Magician’s Elephant when it premieres only to Netflix on Friday, March 17th.