The Magician’s Elephant Review – an enchanting animated feature

By Marc Miller
Published: March 11, 2023 (Last updated: January 10, 2024)


The Magician’s Elephant is an enchanting animated feature that’s good for families and fans of the genre alike.

Directed by Wendy Rogers, we review the 2023 Netflix film The Magician’s Elephant, which does not contain spoilers.

The Magician’s Elephant is a beloved English fable with a light touch but persuasive themes. That includes hope, acceptance, love, and empathy, the film’s secret weapon. This adaptation of two-time Newberry Award winner Kate DiCamillo‘s modern classic children’s book has a compassion that sneaks up on you. This Netflix animated movie has a bit of, well, magic in it.

The Magician’s Elephant Review and Plot Summary

The Magician’s Elephant is about an orphaned boy Peter (Noah Jupe), who longs for a family. An orphan because of the war, Peter was told that his mother died while she was pregnant with his sister by his guardian Vilna (Mandy Patinkin). However, the young lad cannot shake his earliest memories — holding his infant sister, Adel, in his hands. As the years pass, Vilna raises Peter. He teaches him to march with a broom to prepare to be a soldier. As he does, dust falls from the ceiling of the childless couple, Leo (Brian Tyree Henry) and Gloria (Sian Clifford), who lives below them and treat Peter as their own.

One day Peter runs across a fortune teller who tells Peter that he must follow the elephant to find his sister. Wait, what? Yes, that’s all she will say to him, but thank goodness one shows up via an inept magician (Benedict Wong), who accidentally drops an ivory-tusk-equipped beast on top of a grumpy fan who was not enjoying the show. The King (Aasif Mandvi) gets wind of this, taking ownership of the animal, but Peter shows a remarkably warm connection to the animal. So, the royal leader allows Peter a chance to own it if he can complete three impossible tasks he comes up with. All crazier than the next.

Wendy Rogers, a long-time visual effect supervisor on films ranging from the Narnia series to Waterworld, sits behind the camera for the first time. The director’s long history with animation helps her film here. Mainly as the story builds through the second and third acts. One is the flashback scene involving Peter’s origins during a breathtaking battle. Another is Peter’s majestic and wonderous interaction with his elephant as they bounce through the clouds. (This scene ultimately explains why the sky in the film looks like a Saturday morning Nickelodeon cartoon).

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My pet peeve about the animation here is the human characters seem to all have the same features depending on gender. The males all have upward oval faces, all with chiseled features, with the guys having Parker Young’s handsome, chiseled head that looks something from Easter Island, while the women all have horizontal oval features, looking precisely like a breathtaking Emma Stone. Everyone has big, beautiful eyes, and their expression emotes the same way. The film excels at animating animals, including the gorgeous scene where our elephant is decorated in the colors of Holi. You’ll also get a kick out of the film’s comic relief, particularly a hilarious baby fainting goat and fat alley cats. I wish the script utilized them more.

Is the 2023 Netflix movie The Magician’s Elephant good?

While the film may lack some consistent animation, additional humor, and evocative music from bigger animated studios, The Magician’s Elephant is an enchanting animated feature, one that combines some wonderous animation and a script with plenty of heart.

Particularly great for parents and their children is how Martin Hynes’ writing utilizes Peter and the titular character as mirror traits (compassion) and relates to the Countess (empathy).

This is a good animated picture for families and fans of the genre alike.

What did you think of the Netflix 2023 movie The Magician’s Elephant? Comment below.

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