Naledi: A Baby Elephant's Tale Movie Review
Naledi: A Baby Elephant’s Tale premieres at the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), and with it comes the continued realization of not only the dangers facing elephants—but of misleading titles. While the documentary does focus on a cute baby elephant Naledi, it is much more about conservation and the humans seeking to help than it is what the title suggets.
The 90-minute Naledi is a well made little documentary that follows the birth of a baby elephant and the struggle by her human caretakers to keep her alive after her mother falls ill and dies, leaving her orphaned and depressed. The movie touches on the intelligence of elephants, their majestic and familial nature, and why it’s so important to protect the species, which as most people know has been a target of poachers for decades upon decades.
Having gone on safari in multiple African countries where I saw hundreds of wild elephants up close, and also having been raised to be aware of conservation efforts, Naledi didn’t present a lot of new information. Elephants get poached, that’s bad, but at least there are people and some governments who are doing something to reverse the situation. That’s all pretty common knowledge.
Naledi succeeds in showing the on-the-ground efforts to protect elephants and reverse the trend of dwindling numbers. The human operation showed in the film is enlightening to see. However, the title—“A Baby Elephant’s Tale”—sets certain expectations that it doesn’t live up to.
Nature documentaries do not need to all be like Disneynature’s films, which have arguably set the bar with beautiful, high resolution photography and irresistebly cute stories about wild animals, usually baby ones. They’re presumably expensive to make, have the backing of a major studio and often avoid deeper analysis of a subject in favor of entertainment value.
But… they set certain expectations, especially when there’s a promise of a story about a baby animal, and certainly a baby elephant.
Since Naledi is not really about Naledi but about the efforts to save her, and elephants in general, the documentary doesn’t entirely click. When it diverts entirely away from Naledi at one point to follow biologist Mike Chase as he travels to do a speech in front of a government body, speaking of elephant conservation and the like, I largely lost interest—because it’s not what I was expectating or wanting.
Naledi: A Baby Elephant’s Tale is a worthwhile documentary, and one that would be well served to play in schools for educational purposes, but it it doesn’t present much new information—and certainly doesn’t deliver on its own title.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.