The Duchess Of Sussex Meghan Markle’s first gig since leaving her role as a senior royal is a doozy, as she helms newly-launched Disney’s documentary Elephant.
It’s a worthy pursuit as her first outside the fold, but how does it stack up?
Look, while she’s no David Attenborough – honestly, that’s no slight on Meghan, no one comes close to taking the mighty Attenborough’s crown – the Disneynature film is one brilliant way to launch oneself back into the entertainment business.
Elephant, narrated by the Duchess, follows one family’s extraordinary 1,000 mile journey across Africa in search of water on an annual pilgrimage from the Okavango Delta in Botswana that will change their lives.
It zones in on three African elephants in particular, 40-year-old leader of the herd Gaia, her sister and matriarch in waiting Shani, and young calf Jomo as they head off across the Kalahari Desert with their herd.
Who knows if those are actually their names, or just the monikers handed down to them in the production unit. While we fail to meet any other members of the crew, simplicity is clearly key with three names to remember.
With breathtaking shots of the African savannah, Disney has poured a lot of money into making sure its foray into wildlife documentaries on the fresh streaming service packs a punch from the off.
Suppose we now know Scrooge McDuck ’s pile of gold coins has gone to a good cause.
From close-ups of playful wildlife to the tell-tale documentary time lapses and sped-up footage, you feel you’re right among the action, showing the ability of producers to place cameras in untouched wilderness for months to capture the right shots.
Older audiences may shirk at the cutesy element of Meghan’s positive vernacular, and it’s evident this 90-minute doco has been put together for the younger generation. The tone is playful and irreverent, with silly sound effects (we could have done without the fart noises, to be honest), and even the tense situations (such as Jomo being pounced on by a hungry lion, and struggling to cross the deadly Zambezi River) not lingered on in favour of getting to the happy ending.
While you’re not entirely let off the hook in the heartbreak department, with one moment really pulling at the tear ducts as Meghan narrates one emotional moment in the elephants’ lengthy journey, it’s done, done, onto the next one without any real segue.
We suppose, this is Disney after all.
So, how is the Duchess, then eh?
It would be so easy for her involvement in the project to outshine the actual point of it, risking viewers may focus more on the fact it’s Meghan narrating, rather than on what she’s saying.
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The royal famously is not taking any salary for her part and is instead donating it to Elephants Without Borders, adding another layer of worthy to the pursuit, but honestly, there’s a nice balance struck here by editors.
Disney has done well here to make sure that while it’s unmistakably Meghan helming the microphone (with a sometimes too-cheery, infomercial style of narration), the story of the herd and dazzling camerawork takes centre stage.
In fact, there is no mention of Meghan’s name until the end credits.
The focus is on the elephants, but despite the work of Mark Linfield, Vanessa Berlowitz and Alastair Fothergill, all veterans of the BBC Natural History Unit, it doesn’t quite reach the levels we’ve become accustomed to thanks to Attenborough’s iconic work in the sector.
And that’s ok.
Elephant’s narrative and delivery has the potential to welcome a whole new generation to the beauty of nature documentaries, while Disney+’s scope and the might of a Duchess narrator adds a spot of gravitas to what could have easily been lost within the saturation of documentary content at our fingertips.
Elephant is on Disney+ 3 April.
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