Do we need any more magic in our lives? Well, according to pretty much every new animated film that's geared towards younger audiences, abso-fricking-lutely. Fantasy adventure The Magician's Elephant tries to make magic happen now on the big screen as it's adapted from Kate DiCamillo's novel of the same name, directing duties handled by Wendy Rogers in her feature debut in that role. Brave teenager Peter (Noah Jupe) is on a quest to find her long-missing sister Adele (Pixie Davies) when he meets a fortune teller (Natasia Demetriou, also narrating the film) who tells him to follow a magical elephant. This requires Peter to complete three ''impossible'' tasks, including flying, much to the dismay of his guardian Vilna (Mandy Patinkin) and people of the town which they live in.
Having not read the novel, it's still probably fair to assume that there was something inherently cinematic about Peter's journey and therefore you'd be a fool if you don't use those tasks for your three-act structure. Screenwriter Martin Hynes very much sticks to that structure, exploring the character's motivation, hesitance and ultimately growth to become someone who believes in himself. The problem is just that there's no meat around those bones so the story desperately lacks any kind of original touch, whether that's on the page or on the screen. It's genuinely hard to differentiate Peter—or Adele to a worse extent—from other protagonists in fantasy or adventure genres. Something about how they're designed also isn't working as they're mishmashes of famous characters and yet move like stick figures half the time, almost as if they're not quite finished or fully fleshed out.
Rogers and her team also struggle to create urgency in frames as the staging and compositions are way too dull for this genre. Background characters look and act like either rejected 'The Sims' characters or audiences in annually released sports games, camera movements don't quite reflect situations correctly and Max Boas' production design for the town needed more personality. These inconsistencies also seem to affect what you hear. You can enjoy Demetriou's voice acting if you like her delivery on the series 'What We Do In The Shadows' but you also wonder if her narration is a bandage used after the production noticed their film bleeding to death. Jupe feels slightly miscast considering his lack of vocal range, especially when compared to much brighter and spirited work by Davies.
Composer Mark Mothersbough is finally the last one to leave a massively unremarkable fingerprint on this film, scoring merely odd moments rather than characters or this miraculous world, as if there wasn't any other direction than to cover old, equally unremarkable cues from other movies. Despite all of the movie magic, I doubt even an elephant will remember any of it.
Smileys: Natasia Demetriou
Frowneys: Originality, score, directing, character design
Soldier's mentality peters out.