The Elephant Queen (2019) Movie Script

Oh, wise and gentle soul.
Do you remember...
when we had it all?
Do you dream...
of when we had to leave?
When you led us out...
and how it all began.
Our story starts beside a water hole
that was filled by the storm.
Among the great herds here
are the world's last giant tuskers.
Descendants of a noble lineage
that once stretched across Africa.
Queen of them all is Athena.
She is a 50-year-old matriarch,
head of her extended family.
Like most of us, she has neighbors.
And this is their story too.
Her family is made up
of female relatives and their calves.
They are so close that the youngsters
might as well be brothers and sisters.
Athena's family rely
on her experience and wisdom,
for she makes the decisions
that determine their survival.
Her most recent daughter, Princess,
is a year old,
and calm, like her mother.
Then there's Wewe,
the herd's naughty boy.
He's always trying
to make friends with Princess.
But he tries too hard,
and often it just gets him into trouble.
As a boy, Wewe will stay
with the family until he's a teenager
and then leave home
to join an all-male herd.
Mimi is the family's newest arrival.
She was born in the storm.
It's day one for her
on a lifetime of learning.
For the next two years, she'll be
totally dependent on her mother's milk.
Her mother, Mala,
gives birth only once in five years,
which makes every calf precious.
While Mala might be the one who feeds her,
Mimi will be cherished by them all,
for it takes a herd
to raise an elephant calf.
This is Athena's kingdom.
For now, it has everything they need.
Every day she brings her family
to the main water hole,
which can be a nuisance for her neighbors.
But they need the elephants
'cause they made the water hole
and now keep it open.
But for bullfrog, it can feel
like the construction never ends.
Most of the family's neighbors
live at elephant toenail height.
In one way or another,
they all depend on their giant friends.
The water hole is home to them all.
But from the moment the sun comes out,
it starts to shrink.
So the race is on to raise their families.
Bullfrog is on it immediately,
and there will be tadpoles in no time.
Beneath them,
the killifish have no way of knowing
how or when
Athena's family will help them.
For now,
they have eyes only for each other.
Each time the male hugs the female,
she lays an egg...
and then buries it.
With nightfall, Athena knows
she has to be especially vigilant.
So her family will sleep on their feet
to better protect Wewe and Mimi.
But for some of their neighbors...
the party is just getting going.
If you're a female foam frog,
a single partner is simply not enough.
She invites a whole crowd to a foam party.
It's the first event of the season
at Athena's water hole.
She'll lay her eggs
in the froth whipped up by the males,
and they will develop safely inside.
Up above,
an Egyptian goose is a step ahead.
She laid her eggs a few weeks ago.
It will be two months
before her chicks are ready to fly.
Until then,
the water hole will be their home.
With Mimi so young,
Athena won't move far from the water.
She's always cautious until a newborn
starts to put on weight and gets stronger.
It's the first time
Wewe has met someone younger,
and he's doing his best to make friends.
While some are getting started
with their nests,
others are finishing up.
It's been a long night for the foam frogs,
and they're beginning to tire.
But for one reveler,
at least there's a taxi ride home.
a foam frog gets taken for a ride
whether he wants it or not.
The foam frog is happy
to sit out in the sun.
But it can burn a baby's skin,
so Wewe shows Mimi
where best to find shade.
While the living is easy,
Athena can relax
and allow the babies to rest.
But Wewe never goes down for long.
He's excited by Mimi's arrival
and would rather try
and wake his new friend to play.
Mimi must rest while she can.
She needs to get strong
so she can keep up with her family.
Mother Goose wants to get her chicks
to the safety of the water hole.
It's day one for them too.
And after a tiring night,
they are in no hurry.
Besides, what she's proposing
requires a huge leap of faith.
They've a conflict of instinct
between wanting to stay together
and joining their parents.
It takes just a flyby to convince them
that their best chance of surviving
is to stick close to Mum and Dad.
In any family, there is always one
who is last and late.
We'll call him Stephen.
The parents rely
on their young keeping up with them,
so they don't know
that Stephen's left behind.
Just occasionally,
last and late is also lucky.
Athena's knowledge of the kingdom
has been handed down
from mother to daughter over centuries.
Her tusks are the largest
of any matriarch.
The notch comes
from years of snagging grass and vines.
The vines she likes most
flower for just a few days each year.
And she knows just where to find them.
The prospect of a feast
distracts the family
from what's happening at toenail height,
so it's up to her neighbors
to get out of the way.
Chameleon relies
on her camouflage for protection.
But there are times
when choosing to stay still and blend in
is the worst decision to make.
She's probably as close to panic
as a chameleon ever comes.
For Athena's family,
life at home in the green season
acquires a gentle rhythm.
She'll let them eat until it warms up
and then lead them down for a drink.
It's been only four days since the storm,
but the foam frogs' nests
have baked in the sun.
And they are ready.
For the next few weeks, the water hole
will be home to the frogs' tiny tadpoles.
As they hatch,
they'll go unnoticed by Athena's family,
but they won't go unnoticed
by the killifish and terrapins
living beneath them.
Only the largest terrapin can reach them.
His prize is a meringue
with a soft tadpole filling.
It's Mimi's first time in the water.
So she starts at the shallow end,
and she needs no encouragement.
For Athena's family, this is paradise.
But unless it rains again,
the water holes will vanish within weeks.
If that happens, Athena knows
they'll be forced out of the kingdom.
So they must make the most
of this time of plenty.
Princess learns what to eat
by copying her mum.
But the babies are still on milk,
which gives Wewe time
to brush up on his foot-and-trunk skills.
But it will be months
before he achieves this level of control.
Athena is aware
that there is a dry season coming.
And the only way to prepare for it
is to put on weight.
It means piling it in.
But what goes in... must come out.
For a dung beetle,
it is a gift from the gods.
The message has traveled far and wide.
And with others homing in,
there's no time for a leisurely lunch.
He needs to ball it up and roll it away
as quickly as possible,
for there are bandits out there.
The victor now has to find ground
soft enough to bury his ball
so he can feed in peace.
Besides feeding dung beetles,
Athena's family provides the kingdom
with a free gardening service.
Most of the seeds they eat
pass through them undigested,
to be planted in neat balls of compost
wherever they go.
Tortoise is waiting for someone.
And for what he has in mind,
he needs to snack now while he can.
With no sign of rain, every day is hotter
and tempers start to fray.
With incoming elephants
and such a young family,
the geese need to keep a safe distance.
But with the water level dropping
and a hot herd,
that becomes difficult.
They know better than to react to a bully.
So she decides to save face
by taking it out on a dove.
Once again, Stephen's left it late.
And he's left behind.
And this time, he is lost.
For tortoise, life is looking up.
A female has come down to drink.
He can intercept her easily enough.
But to impress her, he has to prove
he has stamina equal to her own.
And that means going for a walk.
A long walk.
Stephen has never seen
such creatures before.
But he's going to have to get streetwise
if he's to stand any chance
of being reunited with his family.
From being last and late,
Stephen has progressed
to being lost and lucky.
Some of Athena's neighbors drop by
only when the grasslands start to dry
and food is on offer.
The bee-eaters join Athena's family
for just a few days,
when the kingdom's grasshoppers
are at their juiciest.
They rely on the family to flush them out.
The bee-eaters' friendship will last
just as long as there are grasshoppers.
As soon as they're finished,
the birds will move on.
Stephen is as excited about grasshoppers
as anyone.
He might lack ability, but not ambition.
Down at toenail height,
dung beetle is still on a mission.
He might look
like he's pushing his ball forwards,
but he's actually upside down,
dribbling it backwards.
He can't see where he's going,
but that doesn't bother him.
His determination
is out of all proportion to his size.
Now that he's got the ball,
he just hates to let go of it...
no matter how big the opposition.
Athena's team haven't scored,
but they have kicked the ball out of play,
which allows dung beetle
to regain possession.
Athena's family rarely get
to meet some of their neighbors.
Whenever the terrapins hear them coming,
they make themselves scarce.
But the storm was weeks ago,
and the water is now so shallow
that there's nowhere to hide.
Even a killifish
finds himself high and dry.
The water hole has been his entire world.
But with so little water left,
his time is almost over.
With the pool party getting rowdy,
they all risk getting squashed.
So those that can leave
make a break for it.
And that just attracts attention.
Elephants live tactile lives.
They use their sensitive trunks and feet
to explore anything new.
There's no malice here, just curiosity.
In elephant society, aggression is rare...
even between bulls
when they join Athena's family
at the kingdom's salt lick.
Instead, there's a greeting,
a quiet acknowledgement of status...
and then sharing.
Mining the salt-rich soil takes practice.
It's about foot-and-trunk coordination
and then breath control.
For Wewe, it's a challenge.
If he breathes too hard,
the tickly dust goes straight up his nose.
But he's working on ways
to stop a sneeze from getting out.
It's so distracting that, for a moment,
he loses sight of his friend.
Mimi always seems to be hungry,
yet she never suckles for long.
It's the only time her big sister, Milly,
gets involved
and tries to keep Wewe away.
For Mala is not producing much milk...
and Mimi needs every mouthful she can get.
At the end of each day, everyone is tired.
Mother Goose has no way of knowing
that Stephen is still missing.
Throughout the kingdom, most
of the water holes have already dried,
and Athena is getting restless.
She knows now
that they will have to leave,
but she's concerned that Mimi might not
be strong enough to make the journey.
She seems to get hung up in situations
that most babies
would take in their stride.
For her friends, it's difficult to know
whether she's in trouble
or just very tired.
But when Athena rumbles, "Move on,"
everyone has to fall in line.
And for a baby elephant,
there is nothing worse
than the prospect of being left behind.
It's not just Athena who feels
the approach of a time of change.
Almost overnight,
bullfrog's new family have grown legs
and are now driven to leave the water
to start a life on land.
Luckily for them,
their new bones are still very soft.
But they'd rather not push their luck
with three tons of elephant.
Athena hasn't set off
for their dry-season refuge yet
because Mimi is struggling.
She needs her mother's encouragement.
With the dry season setting in,
there's no going back.
But just occasionally, nature smiles
and gives back what she took away.
Hopefully, Stephen's night alone
has shown him
just how much he needs his family.
The last froglets
are now ready to come ashore.
But those that emerged first are bigger,
and they are waiting.
For a bullfrog
to get the best start in life,
it helps to have a big mouth
and small relatives.
In the kingdom,
weeks without rain have taken their toll.
But if Athena was ever
in doubt about what's coming,
the arrival
of the great flocks confirms it.
As the lands around dry,
quelea are forced to migrate.
Their whirlwind arrival
can be overwhelming.
And they'll drink in a day
what Athena's family drinks in a week.
By the time they move on,
they've drunk the water hole dry.
Athena's family
will use the mud as sunscreen.
And this is vital for the killifish,
for they left their eggs
hidden in the mud.
They developed into tiny fish,
but never hatched.
They can survive out of water for weeks.
So when Athena's family move on,
they will carry tiny passengers with them.
In this way, the killifish babies
get to move between water holes
by riding on elephants.
Athena knows she should have left by now,
but the nearest permanent water
is almost 100 miles away.
And she delayed
in the hope that Mimi would get stronger.
Mala is now so protective
that even Wewe is no longer welcome.
Mimi's big sister, Milly,
can give her comfort
but not the milk she so desperately needs.
Only time will tell whether Athena's
decision to delay was the right one.
She now has no choice.
The kingdom is without water,
and ahead of them the pools are drying.
They must head for the refuge.
Mala and Milly now work together.
However much Athena might want to,
as matriarch, she cannot put Mimi's needs
above those of the whole family.
While Mala and Mimi head down to drink,
Athena will take the others to feed,
for she must try
to balance everyone's needs.
Mimi's desperation to drink can only mean
that Mala's milk has dried up.
But Mala can't know that.
She knows that a weak calf
can easily become trapped in mud,
and her instinct is to do
everything she can to keep Mimi away.
Mimi is not yet weaned.
So if she's not been getting milk,
she's not been getting food.
There are times when a mother
needs her daughter's support.
It's what family is for.
The next day, it is hotter,
and Athena's predicament, even worse.
She doesn't want to leave Mimi behind,
but neither can she
put her entire family at risk.
Athena knows
that they've reached the last pool.
And today it will dry.
A terrapin senses it too and will dig deep
into the mud while he can.
He'd rather risk being stepped on
than caught out by the dry season.
Mala will never give up.
But in the end,
Mimi's tiny heart can take her no further.
For a mother, there is nothing worse.
Sometimes, however sad,
there is release in death.
But for Wewe,
the loss of his friend is especially hard.
Athena knows
she cannot afford another delay.
It will take three days
to reach the dry-season refuge.
And she has left it so late
that there is nowhere
they can drink on the way.
There is no time to stop and comfort Wewe.
Behind them, where there was a water hole,
is now the soft ground
that dung beetle's been looking for.
The killifish are but a memory.
Bullfrog will dig down to spend
the next months deep below ground.
It's been two months
since Stephen hatched.
And the young geese are now fully grown.
They, too, will head for the refuge...
following the same paths as the elephants.
Every day,
Athena stops briefly so they can feed.
They are kinder to Wewe now.
Even Princess is more tolerant.
Milly has no milk to give,
but Wewe's suckling
will comfort them both.
Athena's route out of the kingdom
is a mind map of elephant paths
that she learned from her mother
and has never forgotten.
There are badlands to cross.
But they don't walk alone.
All are heading for the refuge.
The refuge is a water hole
fed from underground.
Even at the height of the dry season,
there is water for all.
Along with the elephants,
Stephen's family will be refugees,
waiting here until the rains come
and they can all go home.
Athena comes here
only in the driest years.
It is the one occasion
that her status as monarch is equaled.
This is Satao, king of them all.
A tusker of mythical proportions.
He is a gentle giant...
to whom all defer.
He's been out in the wilderness all year
and will use this occasion to see
if any female is in season.
Nusu is a young female
from Athena's family.
But she's heavily pregnant.
For the first time since Mimi died,
Wewe enjoys himself.
It's a chance for him
to meet calves from other families.
And when he's exhausted from playing,
there's always his family to help out.
As the dry season progresses,
food at the refuge becomes scarce.
So each evening, Athena's family
must travel further to feed.
After every journey out,
they must all come back to water.
It is their lifeline.
But it ties them to the refuge,
and the knot is slowly tightening.
They have little energy,
for almost everything has been eaten.
What started out as a refuge
has gradually turned into a prison.
When the rains don't arrive,
what began as a dry season
turns into a drought.
And the consequences
and casualties start to build.
Athena dares not leave,
for there is no other water
within walking distance.
In such a drought,
what kills is not thirst but starvation.
For them all, it is only a matter of time.
In her 50 years, Athena has never
experienced a drought so bad.
The decision she now has to make
has never been more critical.
This time, the lives of her entire family
are at stake.
If she stays, they will starve.
But if she leaves and times it wrong,
they will all die of thirst.
Whatever the outcome,
the responsibility is hers alone.
Such is their faith in her,
that when she decides to head
back to the kingdom, no one hesitates.
For she is their matriarch.
They would follow her anywhere.
Back in her kingdom, it is no better.
Where the water hole was, those
that dug down are alive but entombed,
trapped in a state of suspended animation.
For them all, for the spell to be broken,
it must rain.
Out in the badlands,
the family do their best
to protect Wewe from the sun.
But he has to walk two steps to their one.
And that takes its toll.
When Athena finally stops,
it's not to look for food
but to remember one of their own.
For a few moments,
the drought is forgotten
as they join in an understanding
of what was
and what it means to be one of their kind.
Where they are heading
is still gripped by the drought.
With the kingdom just a day's walk away,
there is only one thing
that could cause Athena to stop.
After carrying her baby
for almost two years,
Nusu has given birth.
Her baby is a girl.
She knows nothing
of what she's been born into.
Her priority is to find her first meal.
As ever, Wewe is eager to make friends.
It would seem the worst time to be born.
But Athena knows differently.
For thousands of years, her kind were
thought to be able to summon the rain.
The truth is
that she could sense rain coming
when it was over 100 miles away.
There is only one way
to rebalance the kingdom.
It's been a year
since they saw water flow,
and it comes as a shock.
In Africa, to be born on the cusp
of the rains is a sign of good fortune.
For rain is always cause for celebration.
Once again, the elephant paths
will channel water to fill water holes.
Underground, the rain is a wake-up call.
Just as every smile
leaves its impression on a face,
so every journey
leaves its imprint on this continent.
The young geese
are still a tight-knit group.
But it won't be long before they start
to look for mates of their own.
And true to form,
Stephen is last and late.
Tortoise's courtship
has been slow and steady,
but he has finally been accepted.
Once again, the water hole
will be a lifeline for them all.
For Wewe, there is no place like home.
And there is nothing quite like
having a new friend to share it with.
Great droughts bring great rains.
And the kingdom's flush of new growth
draws in other families
in a way that hasn't happened for decades.
For a few days,
they form a super-herd, 1,000 strong.
The largest gathering of their kind
on the planet.
The journey has brought
Wewe and Princess together
and has been the first step
in acquiring the knowledge
that will help them through their lives.
There will be more droughts to face,
but Athena's family will never forget
the extraordinary matriarch
who led them out... and brought them home.
Only a handful
of such giant tuskers remain.
Today, this small corner of the continent
still belongs to them.
It reminds us of how it once was...
when the whole of Africa was theirs.