A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Kids who have read the book by Kate DiCamillo can compare it with the film adaptation and talk about the different experiences of reading versus watching a story. The film could also lead to conversations about animation, as well as about aspects of the story's themes -- for example, hope, magic, and family.
Family is who you make it. Kids need love and a sense of belonging, as do adults. We must question the world in order to change it. We all need help sometimes. It's uplifting to believe in magic, wonder, and possibility. Hope can be contagious, but so can hopelessness. Anything is possible!
Positive Role Models
Peter is a kind-hearted boy who demonstrates courage in rising to the king's death-defying challenges to pursue his goal of finding his sister. When he realizes that an animal (the elephant) is also separated from her family, he demonstrates compassion by prioritizing reuniting her with her herd over his own interests. Leo and his wife are also generous and empathetic in helping Peter prepare for his challenges and wanting to give him a home and family. The nun and the sergeant risked their own lives to save two children during the war.
The main character, Peter, is orphaned in war, as is his sister. Several important characters in the film are Black, including the Countess (voiced by Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and a man (Brian Tyree Henry) who cares for and wants to adopt Peter with his wife, who is White. The magician is voiced by British actor of Chinese descent, Benedict Wong, and the king by India-born Aasif Mandvi. The film is set in a town intended to convey "a southern Spain/Portugal trade route aesthetic suggesting architectural layering over centuries in a region with a very diverse population."
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Violence & Scariness
Some violent and scary scenes as well as some sad sequences involving loss and separation. An orphaned child is raised in scarcity (he eats small fish and stale bread every day) in order to become an efficient soldier. He's often in harm's way, including getting tossed around and falling. He's engaged in a sword fight with a giant soldier who chases him through town and challenged to fly (this involves him tiptoeing across rooftops and jumping from a high building). He and his sister were saved as babies during an explosive war-time battle, and each grew up believing the other had died in the war. The countess's brother died during the war, and she has not laughed since then. The king enjoys seeing people risk their lives and even get hurt. The elephant, chained up as a prisoner, dreams of being separated from her family. An old woman is injured when an elephant falls on top of her. A couple is unable to have children.
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"Oh my God," "weird."
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Products & Purchases
The film could inspire interest in the original book.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Magician's Elephant is an animated adaptation of best-selling author Kate DiCamillo's same-named book. Young Peter (voiced by Noah Jupe) is raised in scarcity, forced to eat "small fish and stale bread" every day. He's been told his sister is dead, but when a prophecy suggests she might be alive, he puts himself repeatedly in harm's way to find her. This involves a sword fight with a giant soldier and a challenge to fly from the rooftops of the tallest buildings. Other characters have also lost family members in war or been separated from them, and a woman is injured when an elephant falls on her. The elephant is kept in chains and has nightmares about being separated from her family. The king enjoys seeing people risking their lives or getting hurt. Peter helps his village -- depicted as a diverse community (and voiced by a mix of White, Black, British, American, Indian- and Chinese-heritage actors) -- see the beauty in possibility and regain its sense of hope and wonderment, with characters displaying courage and compassion throughout. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This book adaptation offers a visually engaging take on a very sweet tale. Among the standout elements of The Magician's Elephant are the detailed buildings and cobbled streets of the colorful European-style village, and gorgeously haunting magic realist dreamscapes where both the elephant and Peter envision themselves flying or floating among loved ones. A moving moment comes when Peter is fed a warm, home-cooked meal for the first time. The look in the animated character's eyes says it all. Another memorable scene has the action stop while one character talks to the camera and walks between the others, all frozen in time. The film's themes of rekindling a sense of hope and wonder offer valuable messages for our times.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.