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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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?
- On DVD or streaming: October 23, 2018
- Cast: Elizabeth Hurley, Sam Ashe Arnold
- Director: Richard Boddington
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Wild Animals
- Character Strengths: Empathy
- Run time: 87 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some mild peril and thematic elements
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