“The Magician’s Elephant” has been available on Netflix since March 17, 2023 and is the streaming service’s latest animated film. The film adaptation, based on the 2009 children’s book by Kate DiCamillo, was directed by Wendy Rogers, who previously worked primarily as a visual effects supervisor on various Hollywood productions. This is her debut film as a director.
by Richard Potrycus
It is not easy to categorize this film. On the one hand it is heartwarming and one hopes for the predictable happy ending, on the other hand it is either half-baked in its design – or intentionally crude.
“The Magician’s Elephant” is a film of the “All of a sudden” and the “Accidentally”. It tells a story about the orphan boy Peter, who believes his younger, supposedly deceased sister is still alive. One day he goes to the market to buy fish and bread. By chance, he finds himself in front of a fortune teller’s tent, who seems to be able to answer every question. From her, Peter learns that his sister is indeed still alive – and that he has to “follow an elephant”.
On the same evening there is a performance at the local opera house. Coincidentally, there is a magic performance as an opening act. As the magician attempts a very difficult spell, an elephant suddenly falls through the ceiling onto the stage. Since a woman is injured, both the magician and the elephant are taken into custody. Peter finds out about this and follows the fortune teller’s advice: he does everything in his power to free the elephant. At the same time, the girl Adele dreams of an elephant and accidentally hears that there is one in the big city…
The main problem of The Magician’s Elephant is that the plot is poorly written. The individual scenes do not build on each other organically. The element of obviously prepared coincidence mentioned at the beginning as a dramaturgical tool makes most of the events possible in the first place. As a result, no real conflicts arise in the film, since the solution is already waiting behind the next aperture. The entire narrative setting also seems poorly constructed and doesn’t support the story in any way.
Formally, “The Magician’s Elephant” has a lot to offer. The camera work is dynamic and impressive, and the orchestral music also supports the dramaturgy of the film. However, she repeatedly lays down oppressively over what is happening. Unfortunately, the optics cannot keep up with the acoustic quality of the film. In addition, the characters lack emotion and the voices seem to run on a separate track. The whole film looks as if several teams worked on the project completely independently of each other and without prior consultation, and in the end everything was combined into one video file.
The confusion is most evident in the animation of the elephant: while the entire film follows its own optical style, in which there are many homogeneous surfaces, the depiction of the elephant is not too far removed from photorealism. His skin is wrinkled, the details pour out all over his body. There are countless hollows and his eyes are rich in color and shape. The elephant is beautiful and a real scene stealer in every way. The rest is flat though.
Last year Netflix was able to deliver an imaginative kaiju action film with “The Sea Monster” that had it all. Unfortunately, the streaming service with “The Magician’s Elephant”, which is aimed at a similar audience, is not convincing, the entire film remains too inhomogeneous, which despite some good approaches remains an incoherent whole.
Image: (c) Netflix