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Review: ‘The Elephant Queen’ documentary delivers drama and emotion on African savanna

A scene from the documentary “The Elephant Queen.”
A scene from the documentary “The Elephant Queen.”
(Apple)

Incredible images abound in Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble’s “The Elephant Queen,” which follows a herd of elephants led by a giant Athena. The nature documentary joins the matriarch of the title and her group on their journey across the African savanna as a drought threatens the land and its many inhabitants. From intimate shots beneath the feet of the giant beasts to underground footage, directors Stone and Deeble have made a movie that leaves viewers as much in awe of the animals as of the filmmakers’ ability to capture remarkable moments.

Alongside Chiwetel Ejiofor as narrator, elephants might earn top billing, but the documentary features a variety of animals from their diverse ecosystem, including geese and bullfrogs. However, the real star might just be the dung beetle, which boasts gross stuff for the kids in the audience and a playful nod to “Apocalypse Now” for the adults.

With its all-ages appeal, “The Elephant Queen” is sometimes overly cutesy, anthropomorphizing its subjects a bit too much, such as calling an oft-tardy gosling Steven. But the documentary doesn’t hesitate to reveal the dangerous reality facing elephants and the other animals, offering a frank look at their existence in a film that’s as entertaining as it is moving.

‘The Elephant Queen’
Rated: PG, for some thematic material.

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

Playing: Starts Oct. 18, Laemmle Town Center, Encino; Laemmle Playhouse 7; Pasadena; available Nov. 1 on Apple TV+


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