One Lucky Elephant (Lisa Leeman, 2009): USA

Reviewed by Byron Potau. Viewed at the Regal Cinemas in Los Angeles, CA. as part of the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival.


In taking what is essentially an interesting news story and extending it into a feature length documentary, One Lucky Elephant, spreads itself too thin and struggles to maintain the viewer’s interest.

Circus ringleader David Balding has worked with elephant Flora for sixteen years, but she has grown disinterested in performing and he knows it is time to retire her. Don’t panic. This only means that he must find her a new place to live as she still has about thirty to forty years of life in her. At first David has a deal all set up with a safari in Africa where she will continue to work with humans while also being able to integrate with other elephants, something she has never had the opportunity of doing. When this deal falls through David is reluctant to put her in a zoo and hopes to get Flora into the Elephant Sanctuary run by former circus performer Carol Buckley. The only problem is the sanctuary does not accept African elephants like Flora, but only the less aggressive Asian elephants.

There is an undeniable bond between Flora and David, but the sweetness of that bond is not enough to maintain the film throughout its running time.

Knowledge of Flora’s seemingly random attacks on people, though few, do not endear the audience to her and further the perception that Flora is still a wild animal despite her obvious affection for David. An animal psychiatrist diagnoses Flora as having post traumatic stress, but this seems a ridiculous assumption that even David rejects.

The harsh manner of breaking the elephants when they are young is a matter that is touched upon, but not really explored. There does not really seem to be any suggestion of an alternative other than the animals simply should not be taken out of their habitat.

While it would make an interesting news piece on 20/20, the obstacles along the way never seem to pose too much of a roadblock to the ultimate goal of finding Flora a new home and the filmmaker seems to rely too much on the audience’s adoration of Flora to keep their interest.

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