‘The Magician’s Elephant’ – Review

The new Netflix film adapted from the 2009 Kate DiCamillo novel of the same name is a heartwarming tale that emphasizes the themes of kindness and compassion.

The Magician’s Elephant tells the story of Peter (Noah Jupe), a young orphaned boy, who is determined to find his long lost sister, despite his caretaker Vilna (Mandy Patinkin)’s insistence that she is deceased. When a mysterious fortune teller gives Peter the vague instruction to find an elephant to find his sister, he sets off on a journey to find the elephant, and in turn, his sister. When a magician (Benedict Wong) conjures up an elephant, Peter’s village is shaken with panic on what to do.

While the rulers of the kingdom seek to get rid of the elephant, Peter’s neighbor Leo (Brian Tyree Henry), who happens to be in charge of the palace guards, catches onto Peter’s desire to save the elephant, Leo and his wife, Gloria (Sian Clifford), take Peter under his wing, showing him the love and compassion he is not accustomed to. Through a series of fantastical journeys, Peter works to let the elephant guide him to his missing sister. 

This film is adapted from the 2009 novel of the same name by author Kate DiCamillo. DiCamillo is no stranger to having her work adapted for film, having had previous novels such as Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tale of Desperaux, and Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures receive the page-to-screen treatment. DiCamillo has earned her right as an accomplished children’s author, and her ability to create worlds beyond the imagination have proven to provide excellent source material for film adaptations. 

The Magician’s Elephant plays differently than her previous adaptations, however. Directed by Wendy Rogers, with a screenplay by Martin Hynes, The Magician’s Elephant arguably introduces the most fantastical world to date from a DiCamillo adaptation. The animation style feels a bit cartoonish, but it serves the youthfulness and fancifulness of the story well. The voice cast of the film is also well stacked, with screen legends such as Mandy Patinkin and recent Academy Award nominee Bryan Tyree Henry featured. 

And while the story is very much that of a fantasy, the overall message feels very fitting for the ever hostile times of the present day. At its core, The Magician’s Elephant tells a story of the power of compassion, the importance of found family, and the strength that can be found in small moments of kindness. While the journey Peter embarks on is fun, the real power in the story lies in watching him experience the love and kindness he has been deprived of for his entire life. From doing the larger act of helping Peter protect the elephant to the smaller act of providing him with a meal heartier than his standard fish and bread, Gloria and Leo show Peter a compassionate embrace, which he is not accustomed to. 

While the film itself plays a bit more to a younger audience than it does for the “family film” audience, these themes leave an impactful resonance with the viewer. With a tight run time, a great voice cast, and heartwarming themes, this film is definitely worth a watch for anyone familiar with the novel, or anyone simply looking for a heartwarming story. 

Grade: B

Oscar Prospects:
Likely: None
Should be Considered: None

Release Date: March 17, 2023
Where to Watch: Netflix

Lex Williams
she/her @alexiswilli_
Lives in NC, where she is on a first name basis with the owners of her favorite pho spot.
Favorite Actress: Angela Bassett
Sign: Capricorn

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