Who can forget one of the greatest movie openings of all time: The Lion King. When the filmmakers decided to design that opening scene, the creators went to Africa for inspiration.
In the opening of The Lion King, animals walking by what looks like a cloud-covered mountain in the background—that’s Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain on the planet. And when the birds fly over what looks like scattered river banks, that’s the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
Disneynature’s latest documentary on Disney+, Elephant, takes us to Africa again. It begins in the Delta, where water and resources are plentiful. But just like the seasons, things change, and animals have to adjust. In this case, it means elephants travel miles away just to continue to live.
While living in South Africa, I camped out in the Delta during a school break. There I saw zebras grazing just feet away from my tent, springbok prancing in the high grass and baboons lurking around our campsite to find scraps or anything they could get their hands on.
But from time to time, I was lucky enough to see elephants majestically walking what seemed to be a destined path forward, like they were on a mission. Thanks to Disneynature, so many years later, I learned they were.
Elephant on Disney+ shows that nature can be a greater movie director than any human on earth. The elephant’s actions, migration patterns, and social connections seem scripted, but it’s just the reality nature has been crafting for centuries. You meet a family of African elephants focusing on the matriarch, her sister, and the baby of the herd, Jomo.
Elephant on Disney+: Get to Know the Family
Jomo may be the cutest elephant ever with so much personality and energy! Quickly, you become attached to the elephant herd’s goals, dreams, triumphs, and struggles. You root for them like you’re watching a World Series game with two outs at the bottom of the ninth, and your team is ahead by one run.
Typically, documentaries tailor to adults and can lose a child’s interest instantly. But even my toddler, who has the attention span of a puppy, was caught staring at the screen for long periods. It’s hard not to engage in these big-footed, trunk swinging, ear-flapping creatures.
Their movements, their souls, their spirit; it’s a lot like the relationship between a human mother and child or an extended Italian family spending Christmas Eve together. It’s hard to imagine that nature feels so deeply and how brilliant these elephants are.
By the end of the movie, you see snippets of the filmmakers ‘creating magic’ in the field to show you how it was made. It’s jaw-dropping, and at some points, you wonder, “how could you pull off some of these shots?”.
The rushing waters of Victoria Falls, the close-up frames showing every wrinkle in an elephant’s face, the moments of baby calves playing in a mud pit, the pit in your stomach you feel when the lions encroach on the herd. It’s a film that draws out every emotion for the animal-lover in you, capturing unforgettable moments. It is fitting, since an elephant never forgets.