|© 2000-2010 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
|Whispers: An Elephant's Tale
Since the 1940s, The Walt Disney Studio has carved a niche as the
premiere purveyor of family entertainment. While the industry has gone in
cycles, the studios' animation division has more or less been on a roll since it
was rejuvenated by 1989's The Little Mermaid. On the live-action front, the
studio has had less luck: 101 Dalmatians was a hit in 1996 and Dinosaurs
scared up a healthy box office. The latest venture, Whispers: An Elephant's
Tale takes a promising premise and saddles it with sappy dialogue and a story
that is now quite hackneyed. Young children will be scared by certain scenes
and older children will probably be as bored as the adults. In the best films in
the Disney canon, the scripts have had a universal appeal. Children of all ages
can relate to the fairy tale qualities in Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King,
but here the material doesn't seem to be aimed at any particular specific age
group. As a result the groan-inducing comic lines and otherwise trite dialogue
ruin what might have been an interesting premise.
Famed documentarians Dereck and Beverly Joubert have collaborated on
this project which tracks the birth of a male elephant - the titular Whispers
(voiced by Debi Derryberry) - and his subsequent separation from his mother
Gentle Heart (voiced pallidly by Anne Archer) thanks to the "Takers" as the
elephants refer to the roaming bands of poachers who attack them. The baby
elephant takes his mother's assurance of "I will find you" to heart and sets out
to locate his missing parent.
Whispers is discovered by another herd presided over by the bossy Half
Tusk (voiced by Joanna Lumley) and including her spoiled daughter Princess and
her disgruntled sister Groove (voiced by Angela Bassett). Groove eventually
decides to strike out on her own and Whispers tags along. The youngster's
incessant talking and flurry of questions drive Groove crazy and she tries to
dump Whispers off at a watering hole populated by bull elephants. Only after it
turns dark, does she have a change of heart and returns to look for Whispers.
After she saves him from a lion attack, they bond further until they run into
poachers who have set a fire to trap the herds. Shots ring out and Groove is
injured. He promises to bring her help and sets out to find Half Tusk and the
The Jouberts are award-winning film makers who have been living in Africa
for over 20 years, and their love of the land and its creatures is evident in the
lovely scenes they capture on film. Shot entirely in Botswana, Whispers: An
Elephant's Tale could serve as nice silent travelogue or with more serious
narration, a fine instructional documentary on elephants. From the birth of
Whispers through to its conclusion, the film does provide some educational
benefits about elephants. (For instance, did you know that one elephant can
pull up water from its stomach to give to a dehydrated or sick one?)
The film's ecological messages cannot be overlooked either. The "Takers"
are presented as indifferent to the pain and suffering they inflict and the
scenes in which they shoot at the herds are depicted in very realistic fashion
(too realistic for children under six, in my opinion.) The Jouberts clearly have a
special fascination with pachyderms and their intentions of calling attention
to the animal's plight is noble, but Whispers: An Elephant's Tale unfortunately
doesn't match their lofty ambitions.
Rating: C -
Running time: 72 mins.