Review by Sean Boelman
The Elephant Queen, directed by Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone, is a new nature documentary exploring the African savannah. Although it lacks the charm and narrative rhythm characteristic of other animal-centric documentaries, the film is watchable thanks to some absolutely gorgeous visuals.
Ultimately, perhaps the biggest thing working against this movie is its title. Audiences will go in expecting a film about elephants, when in reality, it is actually an exploration of the larger role that the eponymous creature plays in the ecosystem of the African savannah. While a significant portion of the story does follow an elephant and her family, there are multiple sidebars that don’t add particularly much to the movie.
Some of these sidebars, such as one involving foam nest tree frogs, present some interesting information of which most audience members (particularly the younger ones) may not be aware. That said, other portions of the film feel extremely derivative, simply redoing a narrative that has been done many times before in nature films and television.
Because of this very uneven narrative, the movie feels much slower than it likely should. With nature documentaries, the filmmakers are constructing a cinematic story from the hours of footage they shoot of their subjects. It is truly a disappointment that, with footage this wonderful, Deeble and Stone were unable to make something more compelling and entertaining.
As one would expect, the nature photography that is on show in this documentary is astonishing. Featuring both wonderfully detailed close-ups and sprawling landscape shots, the creative team behind this movie really knew what they were doing in capturing the beauties of the savannah. Even if one is unable to get absorbed into the storyline, it would be nearly impossible not to be fascinated by the visuals.
Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor provides a very neutral narration to the film, and while it doesn’t have a ton of energy, it does lend the movie a feeling of elegance and grace. More akin to Planet Earth than Disneynature, Ejiofor’s narration seems crafted more to deliver information than to entertain. As a relatively recognizable name, Ejiofor is likely to be one of the film’s biggest draws for casual viewers.
However, the movie’s main success is in giving the audience an admiration for the natural order of the world. In a way that is more effective than most other similar films that came before, this movie really emphasizes the balance in the ecosystem and how every organism has their role to play. If viewers come away from the film learning one thing, it should be this.
The Elephant Queen is not the most entertaining nature documentary, yet it is redeemed by some beautiful cinematography. Full of breathtaking shots of the African savannah, this is little more than eye candy, but good eye candy at that.
The Elephant Queen will be available on Apple TV+ at launch on November 1.