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My Lucky Elephant DVD Review

My Lucky Elephant (2013) DVD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com My Lucky Elephant

Video Premiere: February 26, 2013 / Running Time: 91 Minutes / Rating: PG

Writer/Director: Craig Clyde

Cast: First Khunchan (Boy Mahout), Somboon (Lucky), Tanyarat Pradittan (Oh), Hong (Candy), Charlie Sungkawess (Charlie S.), Wallop Thearathon (Painting Instructor), Georges Levillain (Jean Jaque), Tanapath Si-ngamrat (Bob), Pongsanart Vinsiri (Foot), Pawin Chantanimi (Forest Manager), Danny Thiengdham (Talkative Mahout), Lee Bigot Meena Jasmine (Trekking Tourist), Monthathip Suksopa (Head Monitor), Nutjaporn Swasdiprom (Vet), Kornchai Thitasuta (Trekking Manager), Wendy Chamberlain (Gossipy Tourist 1), Josephine Baggaley (Gossipy Tourist 2), Scott Fernandez (Rich American at Auction), Robert A. Force (American at Auction)

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen; Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Extra Not Subtitled or Captioned; Movie Closed Captioned
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99

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My Lucky Elephant makes for a fairly routine entry to the boy and animal family film subgenre. Yes, despite the long hair, that is a boy on the cover, though I'm certain most would guess otherwise.

The unnamed boy (First Khunchan) is an orphan in the wild, which I guess explains the lush sort of mullet he's working on. Echoing the film's opening narration, the tagline claims that "Life is better when you share it with a friend."
The boy makes a friend in a young male elephant, who is similarly abandoned in unspecified Asian jungle. But life doesn't immediately get much better. The boy finds "no pay, just food" logging work, which sees the elephant, named Lucky, dragging branches behind him. Next, the two friends get a job giving elephant rides, which looks awful but the music indicates otherwise. Alas, "tourist season" ends just as abruptly as it began and the boy and Lucky are back out on the streets.

They get some notice with Lucky's street dancing and painting, while the boy sells sugar cane. Among the amused passersby are a couple of bad men who see stealing Lucky as the way to easy money. You suspect this might be the crux of the narrative, but it too proves to be merely a brief episode, giving way to the next, as the boy takes Lucky to the plainly-named Academy of Art, where the elephant's painting skills are honed.

Orphan boy and abandoned elephant are best friends in "My Lucky Elephant." Cool but shady Thai men see potential monetary gain in Lucky.

If IMDb is accurate, My Lucky Elephant is the second feature to employ Eric Schwab as writer/director, coming twelve years after little-known crime thriller The Learning Curve supposedly got limited theatrical release. In that time, Schwab has apparently served as second unit director and visual consultant on Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible III and Valkyrie. Prior to his 2001 writing/directing debut, Schwab has additional second unit director, location manager, and production associate credits dating back to the early 1980s and including such Brian De Palma films as The Untouchables, Casualties of War, Carlito's Way, and the first Mission: Impossible. Why Schwab would make My Lucky Elephant now as an English-language production shooting in and around Bangkok is a mystery, though not a particularly fascinating one.

Credible acting is already a tall enough challenge for most children, but to ask young First Khunchan to provide that across from a live elephant in what is probably his second language seems pretty harsh. Then, there is the fact that a boy and elephant friendship isn't easy to depict. You can tell when a dog is happy or excited. Even an orca whale appears to have a wide emotional range in the contrast between stagnancy and lively swimming. But, despite what the cover shows us, elephants don't really smile. Or visibly change moods, short of stampedes and torture. Lucky always looks like a worker, suffering just as silently as a circus elephant whose well-being inspires protest. There are enough awkward edits for you to gather that Schwab has put in the necessary time to try to capture different things from the animal, but it never plays as well as it's meant to. In scenes with numerous elephants, meanwhile, you haven't a chance of keeping track of our titular hero.

The night life in Bangkok includes a boy and his elephant. Boy and Elephant ride next to automobile traffic and a painting on the DVD's main menu.

The film livens up some with the use of props (Lucky briefly plays a discarded harmonica, while a castaway Rubik's Cube repeatedly occupies the boy) or settings (a scene set among the lively lights of a Bangkok street at night).
But while used sparingly, the unnaturally delivered dialogue pulls the film down. And when there isn't any momentary diversion to distract you, the film just seems like cruel labor for boy and elephant alike, especially the latter, who has paintbrushes shoved in his trunk and is marginalized when his artwork isn't up to snuff.

My Lucky Elephant carries the Dove Foundation's meaningless but common "Family Approved" seal. It also bears a PG rating for "brief mild language", which seems a bit rash for such a direct-to-video children's movie and interesting because I recall no such language. Mild peril, maybe, but the description leads me to suspect that the MPAA didn't watch this. The film hits DVD next Tuesday, February 26th, courtesy of ARC Entertainment.


Picture quality is fine in the DVD's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Like all DVDs, this one is subject to some technical limitations, but the nicely-shot film looks clean and sharp throughout, not always a given on small studio output. Unfortunately, the DVD includes no subtitles, which at various points could have been useful given the seemingly amateur Thai cast. The closed captioning it does supply will be inaccessible to anyone viewing with an increasingly standard HDMI connection. The soundtrack is offered in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 stereo. The default former was quite satisfactory, remaining reasonably immersive and sufficiently crisp and clear.


My Lucky Elephant is joined only by a trailer (1:04) that seems, appropriately enough, intended much more for the kidvid marketplace than for theaters.

The disc opens with trailers for Amazing Racer and Heaven's Door, neither of which is menu-accessible.

The scored main menu plays clips from the film in between the clever title logo and gradually painted tree. The black Eco-Box Keepcase is topped by a glossy cardboard slipcover embossing the title and heroes on three of its four sides.

Lucky the elephant ordinarily paints on paper, but a woman's bared midriff works too.


My Lucky Elephant often has the feel of a foreign film, which serves it kind of well. Then, characters open their mouths and speak unnaturally in slightly broken English, and all is lost. Like most boy and animal films, this one has a moving core, but it's easy to miss amidst an episodic structure, poor acting, and concerns regarding both child and animal welfare. Still, for a direct-to-video bearing the Dove Foundation's seal of approval and having fake 5-star reviews on Amazon, this isn't too bad.

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Reviewed February 17, 2013.

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