Elephant Parent Guide
Streaming on Disney+: A moving look at a natural wonder - the elephant migration across the Kalahari desert.
Parent Movie Review
Migrations are one of the great wonders of nature, normally associated with birds and butterflies. Until I watched Disneynature’s Elephant, I didn’t know that some African elephants make an annual 1000 mile migration across the vast Kalahari desert as they move between the Okavango delta and the Zambezi river. Making such a lengthy round trip trek across harsh terrain requires leadership, planning, cohesive social bonds, communication, and memory – all of which are demonstrated by the elephants who star in this fascinating film.
Elephant, produced by Disneynature and streaming on Disney+, is the story of a 40 year old African elephant named Shani and her spunky one year old son, Jomo as they travel with their herd, which is led by Shani’s 50 year old sister, Gaia. Remembering the lessons learned from her mother, Gaia has two decades of experience in steering her herd to far flung waterholes, connected by paths worn into the desert floor by generations of elephants. But Gaia is getting old and there are dangers along the path – drought, elephants competing for the same food, crocodiles, hyenas, and lions. It will take everything she and her herd have to complete their annual migration.
Disneynature documentaries all fall somewhere along the edu-tainment spectrum, some tilting more in the direction of entertainment, others more closely to education. Elephant is one of the latter – it’s not as entertaining as some of Disneynature’s other productions (Penguins, for instance), but it provides viewers with a great learning experience. I will never look at elephants again without remembering the incredible scenes of Jomo’s family celebrating birth, caressing the dying, and mourning the dead together. The educational content comes wrapped in a lovely package – particularly the amazing cinematography we have come to expect from Disneynature. The script is occasionally a bit clunky, but it is narrated by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, with such enthusiasm that she manages to compensate for the weak spots. The soundtrack is also evocative and I thoroughly enjoyed the vocals.
Parents considering Elephant for their animal-crazy kids can be reassured that negative content is minor. There are numerous moments of peril, and a lengthy episode of lions stalking the herd through the night is particularly scary. Little ones might be scared by the lions and parents might want to take a popcorn break when the big cats show up.
Despite its few flaws, Elephant remains an absorbing docudrama about an amazing animal. While watching Gaia and Shani and the rest of the herd navigate the challenges of their environment, I started to wonder how much more these resourceful animals could accomplish if they had opposable thumbs. If that were the case, maybe these intelligent creatures would be the ones making movies about us…..Directed by Mark Linfield and Vanessa Berlowitz. Starring Meghan Markle. Running time: 89 minutes. Theatrical release April 3, 2020. Updated June 24, 2020
Watch the trailer for Elephant
Rating & Content Info
Why is Elephant rated G? Elephant is rated G by the MPAA
Violence: Elephants are stalked and hunted by lions. An elderly lion dies of old age; her herd are seen circling her body. Elephants come across an elephant skull, which they stroke. Elephants are in danger from crocodiles, but none are harmed. A herd of elephants is menaced by another herd; there is mention of kidnapping baby elephants.
Sexual Content: None noted.
Profanity: None noted.
Alcohol / Drug Use: None noted.
Page last updated June 24, 2020
Elephant Parents' Guide
As Jomo’s herd demonstrates, elephants have incredibly complex social networks. To learn more about them, check these links:
Elephant Voices: Elephants are socially complex. (This is a good discussion of elephant herds.)
The Washington Post: What elephants can teach us about the importance of female leadership
Elephants also have communication systems that we don’t fully understand. You can learn more here:
Elephant Voices: How elephants communicate
Elephants not only have to cope with their harsh climate, but with habitat loss and poaching. To learn more about these problems and what you can do to help, read these links.
World Wildlife Foundation: Threats to African Elephants
Smithsonian Magazine: The Race to Stop Africa’s Elephant Poachers
The Guardian: If we stopped poaching tomorrow, elephants would still be in big trouble
African Wildlife Foundation: Elephants are the pillars of Africa’s ecosystems and they need our support
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, narrated the movie in exchange for a donation to Elephants Without Borders. If you’re interested in saving the elephants, here are some charities you can consider.
Loved this movie? Try these books…
If your kids want to learn more about elephants, there’s a lot to choose from.
Gerry Ellis and Amy Novesky have written Natumi Takes the Lead to help young readers learn about elephants from the story of an orphaned elephant.
June Smalls has written a guide to elephant leadership in She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch. The book is illustrated by Yumi Shimokawara. Also lavishly illustrated is Jenni Desmond’s The Elephant, which follows a young boy as he learns about African and Asian elephants.
Preschoolers will enjoy Linda Ashman’s Ella Who and Kate Banks’ How to Find an Elephant.
Dr. Seuss’ classic Horton Hatches the Egg is clearly fictional, but it reflects the loyalty and fidelity of pachyderms.
A kids’ story based on real life, Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan tells the story of Ivan, a gorilla in a zoo who befriends a baby elephant taken from the wild.
Kate diCamillo’s The Magician’s Elephant tells the story of what happens when a fortune teller conjures an elephant that comes crashing through the Opera House ceiling.
For a non-fiction look at elephants, National Geographic has two books that will interest readers. Laura Marsh’s Great Migrations: Elephants tells a story similar to the movie. Avery Hurt covers pachyderms on the African savanna in Elephants.
The most recent home video release of Elephant movie is April 3, 2020. Here are some details…
Related home video titles:
If you wonder how the filmmakers managed to get these remarkable shots, you can watch In the Footsteps of the Elephant, a feature length behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of the docudrama. It’s streaming on Disney+.
If your family can’t get enough of African wildlife, you will want to watch Chimpanzee. This Disneynature production features an orphaned chimpanzee and his struggle to survive in the wild. African predators also get the Disneynature treatment in African Cats, wherein Samuel L Jackson narrates the story of a pride of lions and a cheetah. And the Mouse House turns its attention to African birds in Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos which was filmed in the Rift Valley of northern Tanzania.
If you’re looking for elephants in fictional stories, the obvious place to start is with Dumbo, the story of a baby elephant born in a circus and separated from his mother. This is available in both the original animated and 2019 live action versions. The Jungle Book features a troop of Indian elephants, to comic effect. In Horton Hears a Who, a kind-hearted elephant is the only one able to hear a “who”, a microscopic being living on a dust speck.