One Lucky Elephant

Movie review by
Kari Croop, Common Sense Media
One Lucky Elephant Movie Poster Image
Balanced docu stirs big questions about wild animal care.
  • NR
  • 2012
  • 81 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive messages

The central message concerns a loving caretaker's quest to make sure his elephant "child" is well cared for. But the film also brings up ethical questions about raising wild animals in captivity and training them to work for a living.

Positive role models & representations

The elephant's longtime caretaker has raised her in a loving environment and wants to act with her best interests at heart, but he sometimes has trouble letting go. Other caretakers prove to be compassionate and responsible when it comes to looking out for the animal's welfare. The elephant herself has flaws -- including violent behavior -- in addition to positive traits.


The film references elephant violence toward humans, but incidents are described in detail rather than shown. In one case, an elephant kills one of its caretakers. In another incident, an elephant crushes a human against a tree and injures her critically. There's also brief footage of elephant rampages inside circuses and zoos.


The film spotlights the St. Louis-based Circus Flora, along with the Miami Metro Zoo, the Pittsburgh Zoo, and the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this film brings up some thorny ethical questions regarding animal care and animal rights, particularly in terms of raising wild animals in captivity. You'll also hear some vivid descriptions of elephant violence against humans -- in one case, an attack results in a caretaker's death -- but won't see anything graphic (although there is a brief montage of elephant rampages).

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What's the story?

After raising his elephant "child" Flora practically from birth, a weary but loving circus caretaker concludes that the animal deserves a better life than he can currently give her. Thus begins a multi-year search for a permanent home that takes him to Africa, a Miami zoo, and a wooded elephant sanctuary in Tennessee. In the end, her story is that of ONE LUCKY ELEPHANT.

Is it any good?

One Lucky Elephant might be too heavy for younger kids. But is an effective vehicle for discussion about the fates of wild animals raised in captivity -- whether they grow up to live in circuses, zoos, private homes, or animal sanctuaries -- that's presented in a thoughtful and generally unbiased way. The filmmaker's choice to let the footage speak for itself without the aid of excessive text or narration also allows viewers to draw their own conclusions about the motivations of the characters in play and the weighty question of wild animal care.

Flora's lifelong caretaker, David Balding, isn't portrayed as a bad man -- quite the opposite, as he's a truly loving and concerned animal parent. Yet he repeatedly expresses regret that he might have made mistakes in the way he raised Flora, mirroring the way any parent might feel about a now-grown child who's begun acting out. The film's ending is equally ambiguous in terms of whether David was "right" or "wrong," leaving you, the viewer, to decide for yourself.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the ethics of raising wild animals in captivity and whether it's really possible for them to become domesticated pets. What are the downsides of taking an animal out of its native habitat? What are the dangers associated with caring for an animal that was born in the wild?

  • What are the messages of this movie? Do you think the filmmakers want you to come out with a specific viewpoint in the end?

  • Does Flora get a happy ending? What do you think?

Movie details

For kids who love animals

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