Since the dawn of The Animal Planet we’ve seen an entire genre created around using real animal footage and providing a human story to go with it. In Meerkat Manor we are provided with a dramatic narration substituting human motivations for the actual activities captured by the film crew. In other instances voice over techniques are used to make the animals appear to talk. Movies like the Buddies series utilize this technique. With the help of a little CG, the animals appear to be speaking. In the case of Elephant Tales, however, there isn’t any effort to match the dialog to lip movement; in fact, there isn’t any effort to even remotely match the dialog to the animal’s activity at all. So, my first real complaint here is how random the footage appears and how totally unrelated to the dialog it is. The result is something like a Mystery Theater 3000 animal documentary edition. You might as well have provided the words yourself for all the difference it will make. Add to that a script that appears to be adlibbed the entire film, and what remains isn’t very interesting, even to the kids.
To be sure there is a ton of animal footage. Much of it is charming and as captivating as these animals tend to be no matter what it is they are doing. Perhaps you can get as much enjoyment, or more, by watching with the volume turned off. Each species of animal appears to use its own ethnic accents, many of them Father Sarducci bad. The narration is provided by a pair of leopards with Jamaican accents. The story centers on two young elephants who have lost their mother. While the violence is appropriately off screen, we are led to believe that the adults in their herd have been captured and likely killed by poachers. The film is a bit over the top in its moralizing. Humans are referred to as “The Badness”. With the help of a chimp and giraffe, the young elephants look for their mother “at the end of the rainbow”. What they find is the poacher’s camp, where they discover their family is really dead and they play some hijinx revenge on the ridiculously moronic poachers. Finally the pair find a new family of elephants, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Elephant Tales is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This is one of the worst transfers I’ve seen in quite a long time. Black levels are simply horrid. The screen appears ablaze with alizing and compression artifact. It’s like watching the film through a swarm of insects. From stem to stern the picture quality suffers. Colors are natural, and that’s about the only good thing I can say about it. I think even the kids will notice the poor video quality here. The film isn’t that long so there’s no excuse for such bad compression problems. Somebody just didn’t care. This is a flipper disc, and you can watch a full screen version as well. For review purposes I just watched the wide.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is another major disappointment. It’s really nothing more than dialog with the occasional musical number. Whatever you hear it’s almost entirely directly in front of you.
Hey, I’m willing to look the other way on these kinds of things as much as the other guy. I’m a pretty above average animal lover, so this kind of film had every advantage with me going in. I just couldn’t get over how sloppy the film is in just about every aspect. The script is lame, even for a children’s film. Why do writers assume that kids aren’t sophisticated enough to warrant their A game? This is exactly why Disney and Pixar have done so well for so long. They don’t feel the need to talk down to their audience, even if they’re children. The photography is shaky, and the transfer is an insult. Finally the moral is entirely too heavy handed. I don’t know about poachers, but when it comes to filmmaking, “This is what the badness does”.