Originally posted on Variety:
Despite the poetry in its title, “An Apology to Elephants” is really more an indictment of circuses — a no-holds-barred attack on maltreatment of elephants in captivity and especially a circus environment, where the animals are “trained” through fear and physical abuse. Coming amid recent court action surrounding Ringling Bros., as well as legislative efforts to block such entertainment in cities like Los Angeles, it’s a timely and passionate piece of activist filmmaking. While the docu would have benefited from being fleshed out beyond its 40-minute running time, as is, it’s still an effective calling card for the animal-rights agenda.
Narrated and produced by Lily Tomlin along with director Amy Schatz and writer Jane Wagner, the doc interviews multiple experts and activists, providing insight into elephants’ elaborate social order, their intelligence and the devastating impact of subjecting them to captivity. Described as “the last great majestic animal out there,” the producers detail how bullhooks are used to instill obedience and coerce the giant beasts into performing “tricks” completely foreign to their actions in the wild.
Although the production flits around to incorporate poaching, clearly the main focus lands squarely on circuses, closing with a plea that “The elephants need our help” and calling for “compassionate change.” Nor is there any pretense of balance or objectivity, with nobody representing the circus industry interviewed, or any evidence they were approached.