It's much to the credit of Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex's warm, appealing vocal work for Disneynature's latest documentary Elephant that you completely forget that she is, in fact, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.
In bringing to life the story of an African elephant named Shani and her spirited son Jomo, Meghan is, in fact, surprisingly just Meghan herself, a delightfully warm and hospitable voice who invites you on this incredible 1,000 mile journey with a herd of elephants following the path of generations of ancestors before them.
Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Mark Linfield's Elephant helps us to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Disneynature and arrives on Disney+ on April 3rd, a welcome and beautiful respite from a world enveloped by concerns about COVID-19 and the hazards of an environment we may never fully understand. Elephant follows Shani and Jomo as their herd makes their epic journey across the vast Kalahari Desert, from the Okavango Delta to the Zambezi River, a journey their ancestors have been making annually for countless generations.
Elephant possesses everything we've come to know and love from a feature-length Disneynature documentary - exquisite, impossibly beautiful cinematography along with a warm, immersive story that fully comes to life even if it does seem a little overly familiar. It's a story you'll want to believe because Meghan brings it so wonderfully to life.
The Okavango Delta blossoms wondrously to life each year, the life-giving water that flows from the mountainous region turning the desert into a green oasis hospitable to a wide variety of species. However, as the seasons change and the waters dry up and turn the Kalahari Desert into one of the dryest places on the planet, Shani and her herd must rely on the herd's matriarch, Gaia, to lead them across the desert before the remainder of the watering holes dry up. It's a grueling trip filled with peril, yet Gaia has made the trip many times and her experience and wisdom will serve the herd well. The phrase "an elephant never forgets" comes to life here, Gaia's connection to the past and to her herd borne out of generations of tradition and ritual and an instinctive devotion to her herd guiding their way through networks of lines and circles and a path so precise following it may very well determine their survival. They will ultimately have to cross the mighty Zambezi River, a river with intense, raging currents that threaten diversion toward the treacherous Victoria Falls, and equally treacherous crocodiles known to prey upon the weakest of the herd such as Jomo.
If you've ever watched a Disneynature documentary, then you know largely what to expect from Elephant, a film that largely follows the formula because it's a formula that works and it has proven to be much of what fans of Disneynature want to see. There are moments of peril, portrayed for the most part lightly, and there's much natural beauty to behold as Linfield's camera follows the herd hundreds of miles in both close-up, intimate shots and panoramic beauty.
At a time of social distancing in our country, Elephant is a beautiful and gentle reminder of the powerful bonds of family and their ability to get us through even our most insurmountable obstacles. Elephants are known for their emotional bonds with one another and those bonds come to life in this good-hearted, wonderfully spirited documentary with equally good-hearted, wonderfully spirited narration by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.
You can see Elephant for yourself, and you most certainly should, starting April 3rd on Disney+.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic