From “Water For Elephants” to “Horton Hears A Who,” the elephant is beloved in both classic and modern films. Unfortunately, these movie tributes belie an unfortunate reality: according to the World Wildlife Fund, elephants are fighting for survival, with threats from ivory poachers to the continued decimation of their natural habitat. Movies with positive portrayals do the pachyderm a great favor, however, keeping them in the public eye and ensuring that humans care enough to prevent them from reaching endangered status.
‘Water For Elephants’
Based on of a popular historical novel by Sara Gruen, “Water For Elephants” covers the often inhumane treatment of both circus animals and the humans with whom they perform. Although supporting actor Christoph Waltz received the bulk of the critical praise for what Roger Ebert termed an “intriguing” performance, Tai the elephant also deserves some credit for her portrayal of Rosie, the pachyderm protagonist.
‘Horton Hears A Who’
It was only a matter of time before the beloved Dr. Seuss classic “Horton Hears A Who” arrived on the silver screen. When it finally occurred in 2008, audience favorites Jim Carrey, Steve Carrell and Amy Poehler took the helm, lending their vocal and comedic talents to a computer animated film created by the brains behind “Ice Age.” Although panned by some for stretching a short story into a full-length film, “Time” referred to the movie as an instant children’s classic.
In 1969, acclaimed actors Michael J. Pollard and Oliver Reed joined forces with an elephant named Lucy in order to film “Hannibal Brooks,” a movie about a prisoner of war who escapes a Nazi Germany with the help of a zoo elephant. The film’s plot is loosely based on the rescue of Olga the elephant from the Vienna Zoo in 1944. While the real story of Olga proved fascinating in its own right, director Michael Winner added an extra element of drama by incorporating the partisans fighting against the Nazi regime. Shortly following the film’s release, New York Times critic Vincent Canby commended Lucy for capturing the audience’s devotion as a veritable “Lassie in elephant drag.”
It has been more than seventy years since the film’s initial release, yet, Disney animated “Dumbo” remains the world’s most beloved elephant. Defeating the odds by using his overly-long ears to escape from a cruel circus owner, Dumbo flew his way into the hearts of several generations. In many ways, the film reflected the struggles of its elephant protagonist, distinguished by several scenes that are very out of place compared to the standard animated fare of the Roosevelt era. For example, the infamous “Pink Elephants On Parade” scene, in which a decidedly trippy group of pink pachyderms work their way into Dumbo’s drunken hallucinations. This scene, though unusual, separated “Dumbo” from the typical sappy films of the day and secured its place as the most memorable of all the elephant movies.
Editor’s Note: The above article was guest written by Mike Brooks. Mike is an entertainment guru and recent mass communications graduate. He’s also an aspiring screenwriter.