×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: HBO’s ‘An Apology to Elephants’

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.

Such are the luxuries of producing for HBO, the tradeoff being such one-sided arguments tend to leave curious viewers wondering what defense, if any, the likes of Ringling Bros. can muster. (For the record, a spokesman for Ringling Bros. parent Feld Entertainment — when contacted by Variety — issued the following response: “It is hard for us to comment on this show because we have not seen it yet nor were we contacted about it by the producers. In reviewing some of its descriptions available online and judging from the array of animal rights activists in relies on, it does appear to be rather one sided and anti-circus. I am disappointed we were not contacted about it as there is a great deal of pioneering work going on at our Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation; work that is dedicated to actually saving the endangered Asian elephant from extinction.”)

HBO cuts such a formidable swath through the documentary world — and occupies such a unique place within it — as to have the luxury of devoting resources to these sorts of exercises, especially when there’s a star like Tomlin involved.

Some will no doubt dismiss the project as more shrill liberal activism, as well as a valentine to PETA and the animal-rights movement. Still, when you see two one-time circus elephants reunited after years and tenderly caressing each other, “An Apology to Elephants” is one of those pet projects that, in its best moments, is hard to forget.

An Apology to Elephants

(Documentary; HBO, Mon. April 22, 8 p.m.)

Executive producers, Lily Tomlin, Jane Wagner, Sheila Nevins; supervising producer, Lisa Heller; producers, Amy Schatz, Beth Aala; director, Schatz; writer, Wagner; camera, Alex Rappoport, Scott Sinkler; music, Joby Talbot. 40 MIN.

Narrator: Lily Tomlin.

TV Review: HBO's 'An Apology to Elephants'

More TV

  • First Look at SAG Awards' Cuban

    First Look at SAG Awards' Cuban-Inspired After-Party (EXCLUSIVE)

    Celebrities at this year’s SAG Awards won’t have to go far for some tropical fun. Sunday’s annual post-show gala, hosted by People magazine for the 23rd year, is set to feature a Cuban-themed party space adjacent to the Shrine Auditorium. More Reviews Concert Review: Lady Gaga Outdoes Her Other Vegas Show With Masterful 'Jazz & [...]

  • Young Tony Soprano in 'Sopranos' Movie:

    James Gandolfini's Son Michael Gandolfini Cast as Tony Soprano in 'Sopranos' Movie

    Michael Gandolfini, son of the late James Gandolfini, will play the young Tony Soprano in “The Many Saints of Newark,” the  prequel movie to the television series “The Sopranos.” “It’s a profound honor to continue my dad’s legacy while stepping into the shoes of a young Tony Soprano,” Gandolfini said. “I’m thrilled that I am [...]

  • Ray Romano

    TV Roundup: Netflix Releases First Trailer For New Ray Romano Stand Up Special (Watch)

    In today’s TV News Roundup, Netflix teases new stand up special “Ray Romano: Right Here, Around The Corner.” FIRST LOOKS More Reviews Concert Review: Lady Gaga Outdoes Her Other Vegas Show With Masterful 'Jazz & Piano' TV Review: 'Russian Doll' Ray Romano returns for his first stand up comedy special in 23 years with “Ray [...]

  • Kevin BarnettFOX 'Rel' TV show panel,

    Comedian Kevin Barnett Dies in Mexico at 32

    Kevin Barnett, the comedian behind Fox comedy series “Rel,” has died while on vacation in Mexico of unknown causes. He was 32. Barnett’s New York City-based comedy career was just taking off at the time of his death, having recently executive produced and co-created Fox TV series “Rel” alongside comedians Lil Rel Howery and Josh [...]

  • Can't We Talk About Something More

    Roz Chast Memoir ‘Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?’ to Be Adapted Into TV Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Famed New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast is taking her sardonic wit to a television screen near you. Her best-selling graphic memoir “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” is being adapted into a half-hour television series by Shivani Rawat’s ShivHans Pictures and Ken Kwapis’ In Cahoots, Variety has learned. Emmy-winning writer Sheila R. Lawrence (“The [...]

  • Jesse Redniss Variety Entertainment & Technology

    WarnerMedia Debuts Content Innovation Lab Fueled by AT&T Tech

    WarnerMedia is launching an incubator meant to “combine emerging technologies with content from across its operating units to create new and innovative consumer experiences and businesses,” the company announced Tuesday. Led by Jesse Redniss, Turner’s executive VP of data strategy and product innovation, the WarnerMedia Innovation Lab is looking to integrate its intellectual property and talent [...]

  • Ilha de Ferro - Dante (

    NATPE: 5 Takes on Brazil’s Globo and Its 2019 Lineup

    MIAMI  — In hallowed tradition, Brazilian TV giant Globo unveiled its NATPE line-up on the first day of the Miami trade fair. With scripted and non-scripted promos playing to a thundering soundtrack Jerry Bruckheimer would have been proud of, this was, as ever for Globo, a polished and powerful presentation. But it also said much [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content