Water for Elephants, based on the bestselling book, tells the story of a young man who joins the circus during the Depression, working with an elephant and falling for a married performer. Critics are mixed:
- The film “provides a constant wash of scenic pleasure,” and is true to the book, writes Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter. “But the vital spark that would have made the drama truly compelling on the screen is missing.”
- Roger Ebert welcomes the film. “In an age of prefabricated special effects and obviously phony spectacle, it's sort of old-fashioned (and a pleasure) to see a movie made of real people and plausible sets,” he notes in the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Writing in Variety, Peter Debruge cheers the movie. It’s “a splendid period swooner that delivers classic romance and an indelible insider's view of 1930s circus life.”
- But in the New York Times, Stephen Holden strongly disagrees. The “timid screen adaptation,” he writes, “short-circuits the novel’s quirky charms and period atmosphere by its squeamish attitude toward gritty circus life.”