Water For Elephants Parent Guide
"Water for Elephants" will leave most parents looking for another option to quench their family's entertainment thirst.
Parent Movie Review
Point out something a man can’t have and it is sure to make him want it more than ever. So it is with Jacob Jankowski (Robert Pattinson). His desire happens to be the wife of another man.
After losing his parents (Aleksandra Kaniak, Ilia Volok) in a car accident on the day he was to write his final exam for a veterinarian degree, Jacob leaves town with nothing but a single suitcase in hand. Like many others during the Great Depression, he scrambles aboard a moving train hoping for a brighter future in some distant location. But rather than the usual homeless hobos, he finds himself in the company of circus stars heading for yet another performance in a string of towns. With a little help from an old roustabout (Jim Norton) and some embellishment of the truth, Jacob secures a job as the company’s vet.
However Benzini Bros. Circus isn’t all it appears to be. Lorded over by August (Christoph Waltz), a troubled and cruel ringmaster/owner, the troop try to maintain the illusion of a successful enterprise while avoiding the proprietor’s ire. (August disposes of employees he is disgruntled with or doesn’t want to pay by having them tossed from the speeding train.) Jacob discovers all this after he agrees to care for the animals. That is also when he is warned to stay away fromMarlena (Reese Witherspoon), August’s prized possession and wife.
Of course Marlena becomes the only thing Jacob wants. And so the story unfolds in a predictable fashion, as the romance grows from the brief exchange of glances to a stolen kiss in a shadowed alley and finally a tryst in a hotel room.
What saves this film from being just another tragic love affair with a twist of infidelity are the side stories. Outside of the big top, the life of these traveling entertainers is anything but glamorous. The depiction of their squalid living quarters and grueling working conditions dispels any desire for a life in the circus. Yet even in their desperate circumstances, these individuals survive because of their camaraderie as well as their compassion for the animals.
When August acquires an elephant from another defunct show, he envisions a new act featuring Marlena atop the pachyderm. However his approach to animal husbandry involves nothing more than a big stick with which he mercilessly beats the beast when it doesn’t respond to his commands. The brutal attack cements another rift between the ringmaster and his vet.
Based on a historical novel by Sara Gruen, the story, set in the despairing times of the Dirty Thirties, brings a gritty and sobering tale to the big screen. Yet it is not without content concerns. Along with the sexual dalliances between Jacob and Marlena there are frequent depictions of alcohol and cigarette use. More disturbing may be the portrayals of animal and human cruelty, including the shooting of a horse and the repeated and often bloody beatings of circus employees.
While the production’s actors and setting, along with the lure of the spotlight, might call to some, Water for Elephants will leave most parents looking for another option to quench their family’s entertainment thirst.Directed by Francis Lawrence. Starring Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz. Running time: 121 minutes. Theatrical release April 22, 2011. Updated July 17, 2017
Water For Elephants
Rating & Content Info
Why is Water For Elephants rated PG-13? Water For Elephants is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for moments of intense violence and sexual content.
Violence: A young man must identify the dead bodies of his parents after a car accident. He vomits following the experience. Characters are attacked, beaten and knocked down on numerous occasions. Characters are seen with bloody facial injuries and one woman has a black eye. A lion bites a man’s hand without injuring him. A horse is shot in the head. (The shot is heard but the incident takes place off screen.) A man talks about feeding the dead horse to the lions. A man repeatedly inflicts bloody injuries on an elephant when he beats it with a metal tipped stick. He also threatens to throw a man off a moving train. Later there is discussion of men who have been tossed, as well as depictions of bloody corpses lying along side the tracks. Circus animals chase audience members. One man appears to be mauled by a bear. An elephant strikes a man. One character attempts to choke another to death.
Sexual Content: During a sideshow performance, a woman dances seductively and removes her top. (Only her bare back is seen) Characters wear skimpy outfits for circus performances. A man looks at a book of naked women with stars pasted on their breasts. Sexual activity is briefly discussed using slang references to male anatomy. A married woman kisses an unmarried man. Later they are involved in sexual activity. (Bare backs and shoulders are seen along with passionate kissing.)
Language: The script contains just over a dozen profanities, including some scatological slang and terms of Deity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Frequent alcohol, cigarette and cigar use is depicted in this period piece. Characters appear to be drunk in several scenes. One man’s anger and suspicions increase when he is drunk. Men give alcohol to animals several times. A man suffers partial paralysis from drinking a liquor substitute. Prohibition is discussed.
Page last updated July 17, 2017
More parents' guide for Water For Elephants after the break...
Water For Elephants Parents' Guide
How does the movie create a disdain for August? Is it important that viewers dislike him in order to justify the film’s ending? Why do moviemakers often avoid sympathetic villains?
What challenges do these circus performers endure? Why are they motivated to continue with their jobs? Do they have any other alternatives?
Sara Gruen penned Water for Elephants as part of National Novel Writing Month held every year in November.
The most recent home video release of Water For Elephants movie is November 1, 2011. Here are some details…
Home Video Release: Water For Elephants
Release Date: 1 November 2011
Water For Elephants releases to home video on November 1, 2011, in the following formats:
Water For Elephants on Blu-ray and Digital Copy
- Feature Film on Blu-ray
- Robert Pattinson Spotlight
- Feature Performer Reese Witherspoon
- The Traveling Show: From Page to Screen
- Working Without A Net The Visual Effects of Water for Elephants
- The Star Attraction
- Raising the Tent
- Secrets of the Big Top
- Audio Commentary with Director Francis Lawrence and Writer Richard LaGravenese
- Theatrical Trailer
-Exclusive: Stars of the Circus
-Blu-ray Highlight: The Traveling Show: From Page to Screen
Water For Elephants on DVD
-Feature Film on DVD
- Robert Pattinson Spotlight
- Feature Performer Reese Witherspoon
-The Traveling Show: From Page to Screen
-Audio Commentary with Director Francis Lawrence and Writer Richard LaGravenese
Related home video titles:
A group of Wild West performers act out battles between cowboys and Native Americans for crowds of paying customers in Hidalgo. The real life acrobatics and circus acts of a famous Canadian entertainment troupe come to home video in Cirque du Solei Dralion. A man inherits a circus elephant and all the challenges that go with the job in the comedic film Larger Than Life.