An Elephant's Journey

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
An Elephant's Journey Movie Poster Image
Boy and elephant fight poaching; some peril.
  • PG
  • 2018
  • 87 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Promotes awareness of danger to wild animals because of poaching and the need to protect those animals. Explores bond between humans and animals and healing nature of such relationships.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Hero, recovering from accidental death of his parents, re-engages with world via relationship with endangered elephant. He proves to be resourceful, courageous, warmhearted, determined. Parental figures are loving, accepting, committed to welfare of the teen. Villain is 100 percent evil: greedy, insensitive, willing to stop at nothing to achieve his goals. Set in Africa, the film is ethnically diverse.

Violence

Teen and elephants are in frequent danger from armed hunters: chased on foot, by jeep, by helicopter, threatened and in fear for their lives; captured and locked in a shed. Disturbing scenes include elephant trapped in net, mother and baby elephant in captivity, and a dead elephant (off-camera), which the film implies has been mutilated. Cars explode.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that An Elephant's Journey (aka Phoenix Wilder and the Great Elephant Adventure) takes place in Africa where giant herds of elephants are being killed and mutilated by hunters who make a fortune supplying ivory to the world marketplace. The filmmakers intend to expand family-audience awareness of the illegal and immoral concept of poaching and to promote involvement in stopping the destruction. In the film, a 13-year-old boy and a giant bull elephant are the targets of mercenaries led by a heartless villain. Audiences can expect danger, but a minimum of actual violence (e.g., when the young hero discovers a dead elephant whose tusks have been taken, the body is carefully obscured). Suspense is high as the boy and the elephant are chased on foot, by jeep, and by helicopter, captured, and menaced by guns in multiple sequences. The filmmakers balance the threats with extraordinary visuals and the stunning behavior of the amazing animals, as well as the building relationship between the hero and his unusual new BFF.

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What's the story?

AN ELEPHANT'S JOURNEY is set in the heart of Africa, where animals and humans coexist, if not always with positive outcomes. American teen Phoenix Wilder (Sam Ashe Arnold) recently lost his parents in a tragic accident. The heartbroken boy moves to Africa to live with his very loving Aunt Sarah (Elizabeth Hurley) and Sarah's husband, Jack (Tertius Meintjes), the warm, gracious uncle he's never met. Only a day after his arrival, Phoenix joins his uncle on an "inspection safari" in the bush. Near the exciting trek's end, Phoenix is separated from the other men and accidentally left behind. Frightened and alone, Phoenix discovers a giant bull elephant caught in a trap set by hunters. He frees the animal and names him "Indlovu" (which means "Unstoppable"), and the two forge an extraordinary friendship. Phoenix is astonished by Indlovu's intelligence and sensitivity. Indlovu is grateful for Phoenix's help and immediately trusts him. Indlovu leads the boy to the encampment of a gang of poachers (mercenary hunters who kill elephants to harvest their ivory tusks), where the elephant's mate and baby are being held captive as the gang searches for more animals to destroy. Phoenix resolves to stop them. As the boy and the elephant embark on their quest, Aunt Sarah and Uncle Jack search the bush frantically to find their nephew. 

Is it any good?

The majestic, "talented" elephants, the beauty of the African setting, and the relevant messages about protecting our planet's endangered animals are more than enough reason to enjoy this film. That means putting aside some of the more-than-convenient events that drive the plot; the cliched European villain's exhaustive and exhausting entreaties to "Find that herd!"; and an unnecessary story twist that comes out of nowhere and disappears as quickly as it came. The earnest intentions of the filmmakers are evident. Writer-director Richard Buddington and his team, which includes Elizabeth Hurley, a fervent advocate for elephants, hope to expand awareness, especially for younger audiences who may find explicit and plaintive documentaries too disturbing or too challenging. They've made it work in An Elephant's Journey, a movie that should find an audience for middle grades and up.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether or not the filmmakers were successful in their efforts to educate you and your family about poaching. Were you aware of the horrendous practices of hunters in the wilds before you saw An Elephant's Journey? Did you enjoy the movie as well? How well did the creative team combine their efforts to educate and to entertain?

  • Where would you go to learn more about the precarious state of elephants and other endangered species in the wild? If you were inspired by Phoenix and Indlovu, how might you be able to help in efforts to stop poaching and destruction of the planet's animals?

  • Think about the violence (or lack of violence) in the movie. Even though there were no actual images of dead or mutilated animals, did you get the intended messages? Which scenes might be disturbing to some folks, especially young kids, even without seeing the actual destruction?

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