Ahead of the release of its new streaming service, Apple has announced a wide variety of shows and films to lure in potential subscribers. And, if nature documentaries are your thing, Apple TV+ has something to convince you to sign up, too. The Elephant Queen, which tells the true story of a Kenyan elephant herd as they travel in search of a new home, will stream on the platform when it debuts November 1.
The Elephant Queen centers around a 50-year-old female elephant named Athena, and her herd, including two of her offspring, Mimi, “the newborn," and Wewe, “the toddler." According to the film’s description on Sundance Institute, The Elephant Queen starts off with the herd at their “green season” home, but soon, their watering hole begins to dry up and they have to travel to find a new home during a drought. Narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor, The Elephant Queen speaks to environmental and poaching issues that elephants face through the lens of one particular elephant family.
Filmmakers and spouses Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble filmed the elephant herd over four years, and weren’t sure what they’d get when they set out. “We go out into the field knowing just the arc of the story,” Stone said after an International Documentary Association screening of the film (via IndieWire). “So we’ll know that we want to tell a story about what happens to a family of elephants in extreme conditions where they’re forced to leave home, and what happens to them and what happens to the neighbors that they share home with.”
She added that they do research on everything they can, including all the animals in the area, so they have an idea of what could potentially happen. “But with a film like this, we knew we wanted to tell an emotional story. So we knew we had to find our lead characters and then see what, if anything, happened,” Stone continued. “But invariably, life goes on and something happens.”
They also had to find the right elephant, a process which took 18 months. “We were looking for a charismatic female elephant matriarch because it’s very much a female leadership story and we were looking for the ideal elephant for a long time,” Deeble told Deadline.
In the end, they ended up with Athena and a story about what happens to an elephant herd in their journey to survive a drought. There are plenty of light moments in the movie, including with smaller animals, all the way down to insects. But, things get dark, too. One dramatic moment in particular comes when the heard mourn over a fellow elephant’s skull. There are also a couple tragic updates in the end credits.
Stone and Deeble explained at the IDA screening that they hope the film appeals to viewers' emotions and has an effect on people who might not know much about the threats elephants are under. Stone said that they want to show people that elephants are “just like us ... But then at the same time to really make a difference where there is a crisis in the real world with these elephants. We won’t have them on our planet if we don’t do something about protecting them.”
The Elephant Queen is an Apple TV+ original, but was previously shown at the Sundance Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival, among others. Before debuting on the streaming platform, it also opened in select theaters on October 18. But now, with the new service, subscribers will get to take in this majestic and harrowing story from the comfort of their own homes.