Now streaming on Disney+, Disneynature’s “Elephant,” directed by Mark Linfield and narrated by Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, shows a vivid story about a herd of elephants as they journey hundreds of miles from Okavango River through the Kalahari Desert to the Zambezi River.
Like humans, elephants have leaders to guide them through life. In Disneynature’s “Elephant,” Gaia was the matriarch of their elephant herd and Shani was next in line to lead.
The film starts in the southern region of Africa by the Okavango River. Since the Okavango River was starting to run short of water, Gaia, an experienced matriarch, knew that she would need to train Shani and lead her herd to the Zambezi River for water. Gaia not only needed to watch out for the adult elephants in her herd but also Shani’s calf, Jomo, who was only a year old.
As they made their journey, Gaia had to find ways to keep the herd fed and hydrated. With Gaia’s wisdom, they were able to meet some other elephant herds and socialize on the way. Although not easy, Gaia was able to lead every member of the herd to the Zambezi River safely, despite the threat of crocodiles and dehydration.
After staying at the Zambezi River for a while, Gaia knew it was time to head back to the Okavango River where the water would be restored. The group decided to go back but was followed by a group of lions. Gaia, being the oldest elephant and weakened by their journey, passed away before making it back. As the lions encroached, the herd had no choice but to leave Gaia.
“It is now Shani, not Gaia to whom the family must look for guidance. The decisions she makes from here on will have huge consequences for the entire herd,” Markle narrates in the film. Shani leads her family through a pack of hyenas and was able to safely make it back to the Okavango River, even with another newborn in their family.
Markle, a newbie to voice acting, provided an animated and humanistic narration to “Elephants” using different intonation. After Gaia passed away, there were some tribute scenes that made it seem like the elephants were reminiscing the memories of Gaia, which also seemed like human compassion and mourning. There were also scenes where Gaia would “sense” what to do next and the camera would show clips of what she would be sensing, like water or food, which gave it a dramatic feel.
Overall, the film was heart-warming, and the videography was vivid. You could see the impacts of climate change in the film. An intimate scene that I liked was in the beginning when Gaia was leading her herd through the desert. They were attempting to make a pit stop at a drinking hole only to find that it was dry. The elephants also saw an elephant skeleton there. Gaia approached and felt the skeleton with her trunk, showing the importance of kinship to elephants.
“Elephants seem to have a deep connection in their past and a reverence for those who came before them,” Markle narrated.
“This epic journey was started by Gaia, but it’s Shani who will now carry forward the wisdom of the generation,” Markle said as the elephants returned home. This film showed the strength of female elephants leading and protecting their family even in our current changing climate.
Amy Chen is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.