The Magician’s Elephant (2023): Fresh off the Oscar win for Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022), Netflix has proved that it is as good at making animated features as it is at gripping television drama. Joining the canon of Netflix’s animated films is The Magician’s Elephant (2023), an adaptation of the children’s book of the same name by Kate DiCamillo.
While the predictable proceedings and standard animation in The Magician’s Elephant would not garner it a golden statuette, it is still a heartwarming and skillfully told animation saga that definitely deserves your attention.
In this article, we will examine several plot threads from the film and explain its ending. A SPOILER ALERT for the entire movie!
The Magician’s Elephant (2023) Plot Summary and Movie Synopsis:
The film is narrated by the fortune-teller (voiced by Natasia Demetriou), who also happens to be a character in the story. The fortune-teller recalls the story of the town of Baltese, which was once a happy-go-lucky place full of magic. However, following the Great Foreign War (a possible reference to World War II), the people of the Baltese stopped believing, and magic eventually disappeared.
During the War, the town’s Countess (Kirby) also lost her brother, leaving her depressed and unhappy. Further, to make matters worse, the town was covered by perennial dark clouds that completely enveloped Baltese. The fortune-teller tells us that this is going to be the story of how that all changed one day.
We follow our protagonist, Peter (Noah Jupe)—an orphan boy who lives with his guardian Vilna Lutz (Mandy Patinkin). Lutz was a soldier in the war and had rescued Peter. On the other hand, Peter has faint memories of his infant sister and often wonders if she is still alive—even though Lutz vehemently tells him that his sister and mother died at birth. Lutz intends for Peter to become a soldier and makes him lead a disciplined life.
One day, Lutz sends off Peter with a coin to buy bread and fish. Along the way, Peter comes across a red circus tent with a notice outside it saying that one can get all the difficult questions answered at the price of one coin. Peter is intrigued by this prospect and steps inside the tent, where he meets the fortune-teller (the narrator). Much to Peter’s shock, the fortune-teller seems to know everything about Peter’s life and reveals that his sister is alive.
The fortune-teller, however, mentions that she can only answer a single question for one coin. Although hesitant to give away his money meant for food, Peter is curious about his sister’s whereabouts and hands over the coin to the fortune-teller.
Peter asks the fortune-teller one question about how he can locate his younger sister. The fortune teller vaguely tells him to “follow the elephant” before disappearing. Peter is confounded by this since no elephants can be seen in their town of Baltese.
When Peter returns, Lutz is angry at him for wasting the money. Lutz shows Peter a book of fairy-tales from his cabinet and tells him that he had stolen this from one of the young soldiers during the war. The soldier, whose name was Romain De Smedt, used to read these stories to remember his childhood and home.
Lutz took away the book so that De Smedt could focus on the war. This ended up transforming De Smedt into a ruthless warrior. Using this example, Lutz tells Peter that fairy-tales are nothing but distractions and that no elephants exist in this town. Peter is, however, still adamant about finding his sister.
What Happens At The Magic Show And How Does Peter Find The Elephant?
That night in town, a magician (Benedict Wong) is doing a show, but his odd tricks are not well-received by the people. To charm the audience, the magician attempts one powerful trick that surprisingly brings a giant elephant into the stage and injures one of the prestigious guests, Madam LaVaughn (Miranda Richardson). The public is horrified at the sight of the elephant and scatters in terror. Due to the injury caused to Madam LaVaughn, both the magician and the elephant are imprisoned.
However, this incident causes a great uproar in the kingdom and made newspaper headlines. Peter catches this news and believes the elephant to be his compass to locate his sister. When he tells the same to Lutz, he dismisses the boy’s claims haughtily. However, Peter’s kind neighbor Leo Matienne (Brian Tyree Henry), who works at the palace, believes him and takes him to court to see the elephant.
At the court, the Countess’s advisors advise her to shoot the elephant, considering her to be a danger to the general public. Before the Countess can make the decision, Leo sends out a telegram to the King (Aasif Mandvi), telling him about the appearance of the elephant. The frivolous King, who has a penchant for spectacle and entertainment, at once appears in Baltese to see the elephant.
When the chained elephant is unveiled in front of everyone, she is visibly upset and begins to attack aggressively. Peter realizes that her eyes are itching and carefully manages to clean them. Seeing Peter so dexterously behave with the elephant, everyone is impressed.
The Countess offers Peter to stay at her palace and care for the elephant. Peter, however, reveals that the elephant is meant to guide him to his sister and requests that she be given to him. The King mentions that he will hand over the elephant to Peter if he manages to complete three impossible tasks beginning tomorrow.
What Is Peter’s 1st Task and How Does He Accomplish It?
For Peter’s first task, he is made to fight the King’s most formidable knight in a sword fight. During the night, Leo teaches fencing to Peter at his home. Leo and his wife, Gloria (Sian Clifford), don’t have any children of their own. Leo secretly suggests that they adopt Peter, but Gloria is reluctant even though she cares for Peter.
On the same night, at an orphanage near Baltese, it is revealed that Peter’s younger sister Adele (Pixie Davies), is alive. Sister Marie (Dawn French) is taking care of her and has told Adele that both her brother and mother died during the war. That night, Adele dreams of an elephant and tells Sister Marie about it.
Meanwhile, the elephant is in the palace, chained and alone. She dreams of her life in the African savannas, where she lived with her family before being brought to this place by the magician’s weird spell. Peter comes to meet the elephant, and they form a sweet bond.
The next day, Peter realizes he is supposed to fight Romain De Smedt in a sword duel. He suddenly remembers that Romain De Smedt was the same soldier from whom Lutz had stolen the fairy-tale book to make him a better soldier. Just as the fight commences, Peter rushes back home to retrieve the fairy-tale book, believing it would appease De Smedt. A ruthless De Smedt chases after Peter to finish him.
Just before De Smedt can knock him off, Peter gets the book and shows it to De Smedt. Seeing the book rekindles nostalgic memory in De Smedt, and he throws away his sword. Grateful for his childhood book, De Smedt bows before Peter and accepts defeat. This sight astonishes everyone, and the townsfolk celebrate Peter’s victory. This also instills hope inside the town—something which had disappeared after the war.
How Did Adele Survive The War?
After completing the first impossible task, the King orders Peter to fly into the sky. Even though an impossible feat, Peter is willing to do whatever as long as it leads him to his sister. Lutz is baffled at this and begins to worry about the boy.
During the night, Lutz has a dream where he recalls the horrific night when he rescued Peter. It is revealed that Lutz and his army were escaping from the enemy’s bombings when Lutz came across a house with a young Peter, Sister Maria, and an infant Adele. Lutz ordered them to head over to the garrison. Maria handed Peter over to Lutz as she packed the necessary stuff to care for an infant Adele.
When Lutz and Peter escaped, they saw the house being bombed. Believing that Maria and Adele must have died, Lutz took Peter and escaped via a river. On the contrary, Sister Maria saw the garrison being destroyed and believed that it must have killed Peter and Lutz. Thus, while both parties managed to escape, they mistook the other to be dead.
The next day, Peter climbs the cathedral building in an attempt to fly. The King and the Countess are present in the audience, along with the entire town. Sister Maria and Adele have also come into the town to catch a glimpse of the elephant. Initially hesitant, Peter manages to jump off the building and use a parachute to fly, which enthralls the public below, completing his second impossible task.
For his third task, the King challenges Peter to make the Countess laugh the next day. Since the Countess never even smiled following her brother’s death, this is deemed to be his most daring task. When the public disperses, Peter comes across Adele, and they talk about the elephant though neither is able to recognize one other.
What Does Peter See In His Dreams?
As Peter prepares to write a joke to make the Countess laugh, he is approached by Lutz. Lutz reveals the actual events of the war and how he had lied about his sister dying at birth to shelter Peter from the pain. Peter forgives Lutz and tells him that his sister might still be alive, and finally, Lutz reaffirms the boy’s faith.
That night as Peter goes to visit the elephant, he has a dream where he sees her remembering her family in Africa. Peter realizes he is not the only one who is missing his family and vows to take the elephant back to her home.
The next day, Peter presents his joke to the court to make the Countess laugh. However, his joke about a fisherman and a farmer fails to land. The Countess tries to feign laughter so that Peter can be victorious, but the King is not convinced and refuses to give the elephant to Peter. Peter protests, but the King orders his guards to shoot the elephant.
How Does The Fortune Teller Intervene In The Story?
Just as the guards are about to shoot the elephant down, the fortune-teller appears, and the time stops—with all the action on screen freezing. By breaking the fourth wall, the fortune-teller tells us to believe that even the impossible can be made possible. She takes a cat and sprays some pepper on it. The cat is then placed just near the elephant. Having said this, the fortune teller resumes the time, and the elephant sniffs the black pepper on the cat.
Due to this, the elephant lends out a huge sneeze—spraying all her booger and mucus onto the King. Seeing the King covered in slime, the Countess finally lets out genuine laughter—thereby fulfilling the third impossible task assigned to Peter. The King is pacified by this and gives the elephant to Peter. Peter, however, wishes to take the elephant back to her place and requests the incarcerated magician to use a spell to transport her.
The elephant is taken to the top of the hill, where the entire town bids her farewell, including Adele, Sister Maria, and Lutz. Before the magician recites the spell, he asks the town if they believe in magic, and the townsfolk nod their heads in approval—their hope resurrected by Peter’s heroic deeds. The magician casts a spell, and the elephant disappears.
The Magician’s Elephant (2023) Movie Ending Explained:
How Does Peter Reunite With Adele?
As the elephant disappears, the clouds that have overshadowed Baltese also begin to melt, bringing back sunlight and joy into the town. Owing to Peter’s bravery and heroic deeds, the townsfolk dared to dream again—finally vanquishing the dark clouds of misery above them.
Just as the town is celebrating, Sister Marie and Lutz come across each other—instantly recognizing one another. As they see Adele and Peter on each side, Marie and Lutz realize that both the children survived the war. Peter and Adele recognize that they are siblings and embrace.
In the film’s final sequence, we follow Peter, Adele, Lutz, Leo, and Gloria feasting together and enjoying themselves—each of them content with their perfect family. Meanwhile, the elephant is back in Africa with her group and fondly remembers her time with Peter. True to the fortune-teller’s words, the elephant ultimately aided in reuniting Peter and Adele—bringing the story to a happy closure.