Water for Elephants (film)

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Water for Elephants
Water for Elephants Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFrancis Lawrence
Produced by
Screenplay byRichard LaGravenese
Based onWater for Elephants
by Sara Gruen
Music byJames Newton Howard
CinematographyRodrigo Prieto
Edited byAlan Edward Bell
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • April 22, 2011 (2011-04-22)
Running time
120 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$38 million[2]
Box office$117.1 million[2]

Water for Elephants is a 2011 American romantic drama film directed by Francis Lawrence and written by Richard LaGravenese, based on Sara Gruen's 2006 novel of the same name. It stars Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, and Christoph Waltz.[3]

The film was released in the United States on April 22, 2011. It received mixed reviews from film critics and grossed $117 million worldwide for a budget of $38 million.


Charlie O'Brien, Circus Vargas' owner, encounters an elderly man named Jacob Jankowski, who is separated from his nursing home group. The two strike up a conversation and Jacob reveals he had a career in the circus business and was present during one of the most infamous circus disasters of all time, equal in seriousness to the 1944 Hartford circus fire and the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus wreck.

Jankowski tells his story to O'Brien, starting in 1931 when he was a 23-year-old veterinary medicine student at Cornell University. During his final exam, he is informed that his parents were killed in a car accident. His father has left huge debts, and the bank was foreclosing on Jacob's home. Feeling there is no point in returning to school, and having no home to go to, he jumps onto a passing train where he meets a kind old man named Camel.

Jacob wakes up the next morning and discovers that he jumped on the Benzini Bros. circus train. He sees a beautiful young woman named Marlena Rosenbluth, and meets August, the circus's ringmaster, head animal trainer, and Marlena's husband. Jacob reveals he studied veterinary science and August hires Jacob as a vet for the circus animals after Jacob tells August that Silver (a show horse) has laminitis.

August instructs Jacob to fix Silver and keep him performing as long as possible. But Jacob cannot bear to see Silver's suffering and takes it upon himself to tell Marlena and shoots Silver. August is furious with Jacob's decision to euthanize Silver against orders. To show Jacob who is boss, he threatens to throw him off the moving train — telling him that an animal's suffering is nothing compared to a man's, and that Jacob must carry out all of August's future orders if he wishes to keep his job.

August eventually procures Rosie the elephant as Silver's replacement. He invites Jacob to his car for dinner and cocktails with him and Marlena. Jacob watches the married couple flirt and dance in front of him, but it becomes clear that their relationship is complicated because August is possessive, jealous and rough with Marlena.

In the next few weeks, August becomes frustrated when Rosie seems impossible to train. August is brutal with Rosie, beating her with a bullhook when she fails to follow orders. After a brutal beating that August gave to Rosie when she ran away after fleeing from the event and dropping Marlena, Jacob realizes that the elephant only understands Polish commands. After that, Rosie performs beautifully and the circus enjoys a short period of success. While working together to train Rosie, Jacob and Marlena fall in love. During a prohibition raid while the three are celebrating at a restaurant the two share a kiss after getting separated from August. Marlena runs off in a moment of regret and Jacob considers quitting but can't bear to leave Rosie to August's clutches. After August later observes their chemistry, he cruelly taunts the two, even to a point where he forces the two of them to kiss in front of him. Marlena discovers that August plans to throw Jacob from the train and they run away together, hiding in a local hotel. Soon after consummating their relationship, they are ambushed by August's henchmen who drag Marlena away and beat up Jacob.

Jacob covertly returns to the circus train to find Marlena. He holds a knife near a sleeping August but backs off. Marlena tells Jacob that his friends Walter and Camel were thrown from the train and killed and promises to run away with Jacob again once August is occupied. Several circus employees have become fed up with August's murderous cruelty and unleash their revenge by unlocking all the animals' cages while the big top tent is jam-packed with an audience enjoying Marlena and Rosie's performance. Jacob attempts to find Marlena in the chaos, but August attacks him. Marlena tries to save Jacob from being beaten by August, but this causes the latter to turn his fury on her. August attempts to kill Marlena by choking her while Jacob fights with one of August's henchmen, who easily defeats him. Wade and Grady, two of Jacob's best friends and one of the circus workers save Jacob, who sees Rosie hit August on the back of the head with an iron stake, killing him. As a result, Benzini Bros. is officially shut down, and no one is charged with releasing the animals.

Back in the present, Jacob explains to O'Brien in flashbacks that he returned to Cornell and finished his degree. He and Marlena took several horses and Rosie, and got jobs with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Jacob worked as a veterinarian and she continued to perform with Rosie. They married, had children and kept Rosie until her death. He took on a job as a vet at the Albany Zoo and after more children and many happy years together Marlena died.

O'Brien then asks Jacob to work as the ticket taker, to which Jacob agrees.




On a budget of $38 million,[4] filming began on May 20, 2010 in Los Angeles, Piru, Fillmore in California, Chattanooga, Tennessee, Kensington and Chickamauga in Georgia. The filming wrapped up on August 4, 2010. This is the second time Witherspoon and Pattinson have costarred together as they had filmed a deleted scene from 2004's Vanity Fair in which he was her estranged son. Reshoots for the film were scheduled for mid January 2011.[5]

The stampede scenes were digitally composed.[6]


Alleged animal abuse[edit]

In the film Water for Elephants the elephant Rosie, whom Tai portrays, is severely abused. A spokesperson from the AHA assured people that all scenes of abuse in the film were the work of special effects and CGI, and that the moaning and crying sounds that Tai is seen making on film were audio tracks, and were not actually made by Tai.[citation needed]

Controversy erupted, however, regarding concerns Tai was mistreated prior to filming. A video released by the Animal Defenders International (ADI) in 2011 shows footage of Tai allegedly being shocked with handheld stun guns and beaten around the body and legs with bull hooks, while in the care of Have Trunk Will Travel in 2005. The ADI contacted AHA, urging them to re-evaluate how they assess the use of animals in films and the statements being made which effectively endorse the use of performing animals.[citation needed]

Have Trunk Will Travel responded to the video stating, "The video shows heavily edited and very short snippets, obviously taken surreptitiously six years ago, purporting mistreatment of our elephants. If there was truly any abuse going on why wait six minutes, much less six years?" and added "None of the footage being shown was taken during Tai's training for Water for Elephants."[citation needed]


Critical response[edit]

On review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 60% based on 189 reviews, with an average rating of 6.1/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "It's a tale tastefully told and beautifully filmed, but Water for Elephants suffers from a pronounced lack of chemistry between its leads."[7] Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating to reviews, the film has a score of 52 out of 100, based on 35 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[8]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three stars out of four, stating: "This is good sound family entertainment, a safe PG-13 but not a dumb one, and it's a refreshing interlude before we hurtle into the summer blockbuster season."[9] Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter gave the film a positive review. He stated: "The Reese Witherspoon-Robert Pattinson film will please fans of Sara Gruen's best seller, but it lacks the vital spark that would have made the drama truly compelling on the screen."[10]

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times gave the film a positive review, stating that "despite the stars' lack of romantic chemistry, there's much to enjoy in this cinematic retelling of Sara Gruen's big top bestseller, starting with the spectacular circus setting."[11]

Richard Corliss of Time stated: "The proceedings get so slow and saccharine that viewers will relish the film's moments of redeeming idiocy. In one of them, Marlena whispers to Jacob, 'Bring Rosie to my tent and don't tell anyone' — as if the roustabouts wouldn't notice a 12-ft.-tall, 10,000-lb. creature striding down the midway. Granted, they'd also take a look at his handler, the divoon Robert Pattinson; but Rosie has a pretty strong odor too, and that's what will stick to you after seeing Water for Elephants."[12] James Berardinelli, film critic for ReelViews, wrote: "There's an old-fashioned vibe to Water for Elephants; it's the kind of movie Hollywood once turned out with regularity but rarely does anymore."[13]

Some critics, however, praised the film's cast. Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle stated that Pattinson succeeded at holding his own at the center of a major feature and that Witherspoon, while an odd fit for the role, was "actress enough to make it work." He continued: "the affectionate but turbulent dynamic among [Christoph] Waltz, Pattinson and Witherspoon is endlessly watchable."[14] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone also wrote that Pattinson and Witherspoon "smoldered" under the "golden gaze of Rodrigo Prieto's camera."[15]

Box office[edit]

Water for Elephants was released in theaters on April 22, 2011. In the United States and Canada, the film was released theatrically in 2,817 conventional theaters. The film grossed $6,924,487 during its opening day on April 22, 2011, with midnight screenings in 2,817 locations.[2] Overall the film made $16,842,353 and debuted at #3 on its opening weekend.[16] On its second weekend, it dropped to #4 and grossed $9,342,413 - $3,313 per theater.[17] By its third weekend it dropped down to #6 and made $6,069,603 - $2,322 per theater.[18] As of September 27, 2011 its final gross is $58,709,717 in the United States and $58,385,185 overseas, for a total of $117,094,902.[2]


Group Category Recipient Result
NewNowNext Awards Next Must See Movie Nominated
2011 Teen Choice Awards[19] Choice Movie – Drama Nominated
Choice Movie Actor – Drama Robert Pattinson Won
Choice Movie Actress – Drama Reese Witherspoon Nominated
38th People's Choice Awards Favorite Drama Movie Won
Favorite Book Adaption Nominated
Favorite Movie Actor Robert Pattinson Nominated
Favorite Movie Actress Reese Witherspoon Nominated
Satellite Awards Best Original Score James Newton Howard Nominated
Best Art Direction and Production Design Jack Fisk Nominated
Best Costume Design Jacqueline West Won

Home media[edit]

The film was released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 1, 2011 in two physical packages: a 1-disc DVD and 2-disc Blu-ray/Digital Copy combo pack.[20][21] As of Nov. 6, it has been on Direct TV Cinema.


  1. ^ "WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. March 24, 2011. Retrieved March 6, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d "Water for Elephants (2011)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2011-09-27.
  3. ^ Anderton, Ethan (2010-02-17). "Christoph Waltz Replacing Sean Penn in 'Water for Elephants'". FirstShowing.net. Retrieved 2010-10-31.
  4. ^ Kaufman, Amy (April 21, 2011). "Movie Projector: Tyler Perry's latest 'Madea' film should trample 'Water for Elephants'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 21, 2011.
  5. ^ (2011-01-12). "Hollywood Insider : Robert Pattinson’s Elephants movie reshoots". What'sPlaying.com. Retrieved 2011-01-13 Archived July 6, 2011, at archive.today
  6. ^ Ian Failes (September 30, 2011). "Incredible, invisible, effects". fxguide. Retrieved November 4, 2011.
  7. ^ "Water for Elephants Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved April 21, 2011.
  8. ^ "Water for Elephants Reviews, Ratings, Credits". Metacritic. Retrieved April 26, 2011.
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (2011-04-21). Water for Elephants :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews. Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2011-05-01.
  10. ^ McCarthy, Todd (2011-04-21). "Water for Elephants: Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2011-05-01.
  11. ^ Turan, Kenneth (2011-04-22). "Movie review: 'Water for Elephants'". LATimes.com. Retrieved 2011-05-01.
  12. ^ Corliss, Richard (2011-04-21). "Water for Elephants Review: Under the Big Top with Reese and RPattz". Time.com. Retrieved 2011-05-01.
  13. ^ Berardinelli, James (2011-04-23). "Water for Elephants Review". ReelViews. Retrieved 2011-05-01.
  14. ^ LaSalle, Mick (2011-04-22). "Water for Elephants review: High-wire circus act". SFGate.com. Retrieved 2011-05-02.
  15. ^ Travers, Peter (2011-04-21). "Water for Elephants Review". RollingStone.com. Retrieved 2011-05-02.
  16. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for April 22-24, 2011". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2011-05-01.
  17. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for May 6-8, 2011". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2011-05-14.
  18. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for May 13-15, 2011". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2011-05-14.
  19. ^ Ng, Philiana (July 19, 2011). "Teen Choice Awards 2011: 'Pretty Little Liars,' Rebecca Black Added to List of Nominees". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on July 27, 2011. Retrieved July 27, 2011.
  20. ^ DuHamel, Brandon (August 31, 2011). "Water For Elephants Arrives on Blu-ray in November". Blu-ray Definition. Retrieved September 13, 2011.
  21. ^ Rosenfield, Kat (August 31, 2011). "Water For Elephants Stampeding Into Stores Nov. 1". MTV. Retrieved September 13, 2011.

External links[edit]