The world’s most popular talking elephant is coming to the cinema, but this is the first live-action adaptation of the famous cartoon character BENJAMIN THE ELEPHANT (original German name: Benjamin Blümchen; “Benjamin Blossom”) suffers greatly from its tight budget. We reveal more about this in our review.
Zora Zack (Heike Makatsch) and her aides Hans (Max von Thun, left) and Franz (Johannes Suhm, right) in the Neustädter Zoo.
The plot summary
Finally vacation! Otto can hardly wait to spend the coming weeks with his best friend Benjamin Blossom at Neustadt Zoo. However, his good mood is somewhat clouded by the worry lines of zoo director Mr. Tierlieb, who urgently needs money for the upcoming repair work at the zoo. A raffle will do it! In the middle of the celebrations, the mayor of Neustadt makes an announcement: He has hired the clever Zora Zack to modernize the zoo and make it Neustadt’s new prestige object. And the busy specialist doesn’t hesitate for long: first she wraps Benjamin around his finger with his beloved pieces of sugar – he’s supposed to be the new advertising face of the campaign – and then the first construction cranes roll in. But in reality, Zora Zack has a completely different goal… Will Otto, Benjamin and the other zoo residents find out about her in time to prevent her plans?
Benjamin the Elephant Movie Meaning & ending
Since 1977, the talking elephant Benjamin Blossom has accompanied generations of children as they grow up. 142 regular radio play episodes have now been released under the watchful eye of creator Elfie Donnelly. In addition to lots of special editions with songs and bedtime stories, there is also an animated series in several seasons and of course merchandise. Lots and lots of merchandise. In short: If the term “Benjamin Blossom cake” has become part of the general vocabulary at some point, then the first real feature film (there was already an animated film in the form of a longer series episode) is usually not long in coming. This project was taken on by Tim Trachte, who directed the hellishly underrated “Abschussfahrt” a few years ago and is appearing twice this year; In a few months his novel adaptation “So close to the horizon” will be released with Luna Wedler and Jannik Schümann in the main roles. There is a certain amount of pressure on it due to the readership of the bestsellers, but a whole lot more people grew up with “Benjamin Blossom” than with the lovers in question. We can predict this much: Trachte has not succeeded in the difficult balancing act of staging a film based on a children’s radio play series that appeals to both young and old elephant fans. And that definitely has nothing to do with the fact that the look of the film is pretty borderline.
Best friends: Benjamin Blossom (voiced by Jürgen Kluckert) and Otto (Manuel Santos Gelke).
Nevertheless, we would like to emphasize at the beginning: Not everything is bad about “Benjamin Blossom”. And not just to avoid picking on the already tarnished image of German films any more than is necessary (or even just as a matter of principle), but because there is a lot about the ninety-minute children’s adventure that is guaranteed to satisfy not only the target group. Especially with the human main and supporting characters, it was an excellent success in transferring the cartoon template into the live-action film environment. Just like Benjamin’s little friend Otto (Manuel Santos Gelke), Karla Kolumna (Liane Forestieri), the lovable zoo director Mr. Tierlieb (Friedrich von Thun) and the hard-working keeper Karl (Tim Oliver Schultz), always the good soul of the Neustädter Zoo, are shown here Tim Trachte and his screenwriter Bettina Börgerding (“Bibi & Tina – Tohuwabohu total”) prove that they have absolutely internalized the soul of the “Benjamin Blossom” stories filled by the characters. And the actors put themselves fully into the service of these roles that have been developed over decades, which works even if the actors’ temperament sometimes differs greatly from the role model. Liane Forestieri (“Honey in the Head”) manages to embody the whirlwind character of the frenzied reporter to a tee without the eccentricity established by the original speaker Gisela Fritsch, while Manuel Santos Gelke (“TKKG”) still has some acting insecurities can (absolutely forgivable when you’re just starting your second acting engagement), but can often compensate for this with passion and commitment.
This passion for the subject is also demonstrated by voice actor Jürgen Kluckert, who has taken on the role of Benjamin Blossom since episode 81. The fact that it was not only a matter of course for him to lend his voice to the now 3D-animated elephant in the live-action film, but also to participate extensively in the promotional work for the film, is primarily due to his love for the character. Above all, the viewer benefits from this; especially if he grew up with Kluckert as Benjamin Blossom, as he works just as hard for this film as he does for all the radio play episodes. Unfortunately, even Kluckert’s efforts cannot hide the fact that “Benjamin Blossom” has major problems in two very central areas. On the one hand, there is the story itself: the fact that the motif of a zoo that needs to be saved has long been worn out after several radio play episodes and a cartoon series episode with a similar theme is unlikely to be of interest to the very young audience. What is much more irritating is the attempt at modernity, which runs completely counter to the actual aim of the radio play series. “Benjamin Blossom” is the epitome of timeless, harmless entertainment for (small) children. Here, on the other hand, we suddenly find ourselves dealing with a villain (Heike Makatsch gives her all) who is sowing discord, and who also comes with two henchmen who are trying to be hipsters, who are supposed to provide slapstick but are, above all, annoying in their celebrated stupidity. And that’s not all: I constructed hipster slang with the numerous anglicisms seems so artificial, as if the author had once randomly leafed through the youth slang dictionary. And unlike slapstick, this simply completely misses the target group. It’s as if “Benjamin Blossom” had been robbed of his innocence…
Of course, a lot of things can be put into perspective when it comes to the target group, especially in the children’s film segment. But ultimately, even the smallest moviegoers deserve a good film. And as little as they are likely to be bothered (compared to adults) by the fact that “Benjamin Blossom” looks the way he does, you can’t just ignore the film’s biggest point of criticism: the trailer was already a cause for concern at the beginning of the year year with many laughs and frowns. And although the makers have made further improvements to the animation of the CGI elephant, for example by adjusting the shades and colors, it is ultimately the look of the film that seems extremely strange. This doesn’t just apply to the elephant itself, which, taken on its own, even makes a pretty decent picture as a 3D upgrade of what is actually a two-dimensional cartoon character. The problem is rather its integration into the real setting or into what is presented here as a setting. It is certainly understandable (and, given the role model idea, really likeable) that a zoo without an enclosure cannot simply be recreated. But the film, shot almost entirely in a studio, looks so much like a studio at all times that you never get the impression that actors are acting in a real environment. Neither the people nor the animals in the background ever merge with the figures in the foreground. And if you look closely, you can even see at one point how the movement of one of the animals planted in the background ends before the camera pans to the next scene. And unfortunately that’s not something that can be explained with a low budget – or excused by the fact that the little ones don’t notice it.
Conclusion: Yes, Benjamin the Elephant is made for very young viewers and yes, they won’t notice some of the flaws in the live-action children’s hero film. Nevertheless, Tim Trachte fails – also due to the poor optics – in the supreme discipline of directing a family film that not only the small but also the older viewers can enjoy.
Benjamin the Elephant can be seen in USA cinemas nationwide from August 1st.