Anybody who knows me can tell that I am a sucker for a colorful fairytale. I very often choose what to watch based on how vibrant the cover picture is. Those beautifully made animations are usually more than just something to catch the attention of younger children. The creativity that can be hidden behind these child-friendly movies is otherworldly, and when it is done correctly, it is more than just a way to pass time but rather becomes an adventurous journey.
Despite having many of the components of a wonderful animation movie, Netflix’s The Magician’s Elephant is not exactly what I expected it to be. Yes, there is some magic, and even a magician, but broadly speaking both the magician and his elephant are equally mediocre in this case.
Story – The Classics
An orphan boy named Peter is raised by a lonely, retired solider in a small town that has lost hope.
One day, while shopping for the most disappointing fish and a piece of dry bread, as Vilna Lutz, the solider, has demanded, Peter sees a mysterious red tent in the market place. The boy cannot help but walk in the tent, where he spends the only coin he had been given for lunch on one question to a fortune teller.
He leaves the tent even more confused than before, with the information that his sister, who he has been told had died at birth, lives. The only hint he gets is to follow the elephant.
The same night, an unsuccessful magician is fighting for a bit of appreciation on a magic show that goes terribly wrong. The two go through an emotional journey that teaches them and the rest of the town that everything is possible with a little bit of hope and determination.
Well… it would be, if the creators took their own advice and took that leap of faith to create something that not only looks, but also feels magical.
Characters & Performance – But for What?
At first glance The Magician’s Elephant looks promising. The character design is incredibly detailed in some cases. The creators of the movie showed great skill, paying attention to realistic wrinkles, visible pores on the skin and even flaky eyeshadow. Unfortunately, some other characters kinda look as if someone just pressed Randomize on The Sims 4.
I did like, however, the diversity in looks. Nowadays we get to see more and more animated movies featuring characters from different ethnicities, which is an exhilarating change. Creating a mix of skin colors, hair textures and body shapes must be a challenge for the creators, but the outcome is definitely worth it. Not only everyone can feel represented, but also it gives a more realistic and eye-catching feel.
As to the personality, the characters are very sweet, but nothing more. I found only the king to have a spark of wit and inventivity. The king who only wants to be entertained turned out to be the only one to give a mild flavor to this disappointing, bland town.
The rest felt flat and cheesy. I think it was a shame that such wonderfully designed characters did not get equally fascinating background stories or traits. It was hard to relate to any of the heroes of this movie. Moreover, the generic and flavorless actions become more and more irritating as the movie continues to unfold. I found myself waiting for it to finally end.
So if you are looking for enchanted elephants or some unobvious witchcraft, better look somewhere else.
Editing & Pacing – A Magical Let Down
I believe the creator’s intention was to project the feeling of hopelessness and boredom to the audience, and they did a great job doing that. However, I think they forgot about the climax of the story. It felt like waiting for the best part of the song, Like scratching an itchy spot, Like eating a chocolate Soufflait… Except that best part, when the creamy filling is bursting out of the cake and fills your mouth with warm sweetness, just never came.
The dialogues for me felt so unoriginal that I may say I was surprised. I could spot many opportunities to elevate the story, but they were all missed out on and we ended up with the most common, chewed up and uninteresting story there could be. It is a classic case of “I see you’re speaking, but no words are coming out of your mouth”. The characters are speaking, but in fact nothing is actually being said.
Another issue that made me roll my eyes at the screen was all the plot holes. One subject is touched, then we never hear about it again. Aspects that could have been beautifully composed to create a magical fairytale were only briefly mentioned. It created a somewhat confusing experience. The ending indeed put a faint smile on my face, but I must say it was an hour and 40 minutes of displeasure.
Cinematography & Sound – Cute
As I mentioned, the design of this movie is basically the only part done relatively right. We are taken to a small town in an unknown place and time period, which is quite an interesting concept. I wonder if it comes from lack of will to be chained to historical accuracy, or maybe it is an attempt to create a neutral but innovative environment in some way. I must say the details in some designs fascinated me. Conversely, some made me feel like I was watching Paw Patrol. The surroundings and animation is cute and well done, but it seems like the creators just got lazy in some parts.
Moving on to the soundtrack, there is nothing to add. It is pleasant to hear but it supports the mediocre action that is taking place on the screen. Ironically enough, not even the music can give hope to this lacking plotline. It is a bit uplifting though.
In my opinion, The Magician’s Elephant has a lot of potential. The colors are dazzling, the art style is heartening, and the plot could have been a magical fairytale. Sadly, it feels as if the creators put all their card on the design, and forgot about all the rest. Of course this movie is rather targeted towards children, but many family animation movies have something more to them than just skillfully done animation. The story about having expectations left us expecting more that we received in the end of the day.