For many of us, our understanding of African animals begins and ends at the zoo, or Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Some are lucky to have seen them in their natural habitat, but by and far most of our knowledge is limited to the signboards at the zoo.
Disneynature’s Elephant tracks a family of elephants as they embark on their annual migration. The animals must migrate depending on the cycle of the rains. Where they currently are living is drying up. Gaia is the aging leader of the herd and must bring the family to where there is water and food until the rains fall again and they can return home. Part of the herd is Gaia’s sister Shani and her one year old son, Jomo. The journey is treacherous and filled with danger, from mud to lions, crocodiles, and hyenas. Water and food are scarce at times, leaving the herd weak and a target for predators.
The story is well-written in a cohesive way to entertain the entire family. I often wondered why animals migrated so much and didn’t just stay in one place where it was nice. This story answers a lot of questions and makes the plight of the elephants very real without having to see the live animal right in front of us. Capturing this danger without being overbearing is difficult, and the storyline manages to do it very well. There’s also a lot of fun, mostly at the expense of Jomo, who is portrayed as an impish kid always on the lookout for trouble.
I didn’t know who spoke the narration when we first put it on. I was thinking Sigourney Weaver but it didn’t sound exactly like her. My daughter was the one who clued me in that it was Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex. I knew she had signed on to do voice work for Disney, but was surprised they were able to put this together so fast. She is an excellent narrator with a great tone. Her voice captures the perfect inflections in the story for moments of whimsy and danger. I really enjoyed her work here and look forward to what she does in the future.
With any of these documentaries, the cinematography is key. Here it is fantastic. The scenes in the desert are gritty and yet beautiful. The lush landscape of their destination is also just as beautiful. The elephants are captured beautifully to see their personalities. How many hours of film must have gone into this to achieve the 89 minutes seen here. Credit must also go to the editors who put all of this together with the Directors, Mark Linfield and Vanessa Berlowitz.
Being quarantined isn’t so bad when there are films like this to watch. We thoroughly enjoyed this as a family on a rainy night. From the 4 year old to the 19 year old to the grandparents, it held our attention. Disneynature’s Elephants is available on Disney+.