Magic and faith go hand-in-hand. Without belief in the impossible, magic can not exist. Wendy Rogers’ fantasy adventure film, The Magician’s Elephant, explores what may be an all-too-common story of how faith is all it takes to make magic real. The film struggles to take off in the beginning, but thankfully, the latter half picks up and becomes quite enjoyable.
Based on Kate DiCamillo’s 2009 novel, The Magician’s Elephant follows the story of Peter (Noah Jupe), an orphan boy who lives with his guardian, a veteran named Vilan Lutz (Mandy Patinkin). Peter longs to know the whereabouts of his sister, Adele (Pixie Davies), who is presumed deceased.
Upon encountering a mysterious Fortune Teller (Natasha Demetriou), Peter learns that his sister is alive and well. The Fortune Teller foresees an elephant, of all things, as a sign that will guide Peter to Adele. Only after a bumbling Magician (Benedict Wong) accidentally summons an elephant during a botched magic attempt does Peter begin his journey to both find his sister and restore faith to a town that has lost its belief in magic.
The premise of Rogers’ film is promising: a young boy of humble origins overcoming all odds to reunite with a loved one while helping people believe in magic again. Its delivery isn’t too bad, and it has plenty of warm moments.
However, a few things hold The Magician’s Elephant back in its first half.
Peter does not have superpowers or abilities to create magic himself. He’s a young boy raised by a tough-as-nails veteran who drills him on the harsh realities of life. This is fine, as it makes him more relatable as a normal person. As he encounters obstacles, though, Peter merely stumbles upon solutions as opposed to using his wits or underappreciated talents to succeed. So Peter comes off as an unremarkable protagonist who lucks his way to success at the outset of the film.
The Magician himself, unfortunately, is the weakest character. Although bumbling and clumsy, he becomes a side character throughout the duration of the film. The film would have benefited from more investment in the Magician and his passion for magic, especially if he had lessons to teach Peter. However, he is left in the background, and Peter hardly encounters him.
Flaws aside, the film does have its strengths.
Although the main character, Peter, could be more fleshed out, he’s still a relatable character who’s easy for viewers to bond with. He’s doubtful at times of his own abilities, but he’s driven by the friendship he forms with the elephant, as well as his desire to find his sister. He’s no superhero, but he tries at least.
The overall ensemble does very well with their respective characters. The great Aasif Mandvi is wonderful as the King and the two young actors, Noah Jupe as Peter and Pixie Davies as Adele, do quite well with their performances.
As for the elephant, the film thankfully doesn’t get too cartoonish in its depiction. The CGI rendering is quite wonderful, and even with no lines, the elephant is given proper treatment as a character with desires and goals. The bond it forms with Peter is touching, and audiences will easily hope for things to turn out well for it, too.
The Magician’s Elephant is not a bad film and certainly an appropriate watch for children. It could have benefited from a more serious tone and a more thoughtful approach to Peter’s abilities as a hero, however, it manages to hold the attention and even elicit laughter to carry it through to the end.
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