Watch It

On DVD: Now | On Blu-ray: Now

Water for Elephants Review Critics


Dave White Profile

Not for Freaks fans. Read full review


Grae Drake Profile

Step right up for a charmingly old-fashioned romance. Read full review

Other Critics provided by

Critics scores range from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating more favorable reviews.

  • 3.0

    out of 100

    Mixed or average reviews
    based on a weighted average of all
    critic review scores.

  • 20

    out of 100

    Wall Street Journal Joe Morgenstern

    How do I count the ways this movie goes wrong?

    Read Full Review

  • 50

    out of 100

    The Hollywood Reporter Todd McCarthy

    Will please fans of Sara Gruen's best seller, but it lacks the vital spark that would have made the drama truly compelling on the screen.

    Read Full Review

  • 58

    out of 100

    Entertainment Weekly Lisa Schwarzbaum

    Something is wrong under this big tent. Actually made to resemble a good old-fashioned, crowd-pleasing movie, this cinematic Water for Elephants droops and lumbers like Rosie the elephant herself.

    Read Full Review

  • 63

    out of 100

    USA Today Claudia Puig

    Mildly entertaining, though the best performances come not from the stars, but the supporting players.

    Read Full Review

  • See all Water for Elephants reviews at

For Families provided by Common Sense Media

OK for kids 14+

The Notebook + the circus; some upsetting scenes.

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this romantic drama based on Sara Gruen's best-selling novel features some disturbing scenes of domestic abuse, animal cruelty, and other violence. The romance includes a few kisses and one love scene between stars Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, but it's dimly lit and shows very little skin. Violence includes an animal being put down, another animal bloody and lethargic after a beating with a hook, a woman nearly being strangled to death, and the then-common practice of "redlighting" -- throwing circus workers off a moving train. Two "redlighted" characters are shown dead and sprawled among rocks, and the main character's dead parents are briefly shown in the morgue. With its mature themes and the central abusive relationship, this movie isn't always easy to watch, but it does encourage women to leave abusers before it's too late.

  • Families can talk about the movie's messages about relationships. What are the differences between the way August treats Marlena and the way Jacob treats her? Parents, talk to teens about your own values regarding relationships.
  • Which characters do you consider role models? Why?
  • How is the early 20th-century circus depicted? How are circuses different now?

The good stuff
  • message true1

    Messages: Some of the movie's positive messages include being kind to animals, empathetic to other human beings, and getting out of abusive relationships. The relationship message is particularly important, because it shows young women that no matter how much they think they "owe" their significant others, they should never stay in an unhealthy relationship.

  • rolemodels true1

    Role models: Jacob is a positive role model. He's selfless and gentle and kind -- a complete contrast to August's cruelty and possessiveness. He shows compassion for the animals and for his fellow circus workers who don't have anyone looking out for them.

What to watch for
  • violence false2

    Violence: A circus boss is incredibly cruel and abusive to his wife, employees, and animals. In a couple of particularly upsetting scenes, August hurts an elephant so much that you see him and the elephant covered in blood. A man almost strangles his wife to death. Jacob is beaten badly -- with fists and kicks -- more than once. In one scene, Jacob comes close to killing August in his sleep with a knife. In another scene, a man is violently killed, and viewers see a close up of his face with blood dripping down his face. The practice of "redlighting" -- when the circus boss' heavies toss circus hands off a moving train, without caring whether they survive the fall or not -- is mentioned again and again. The number of workers redlighted is discussed several times; at one point, Jacob is nearly thrown off. Toward the end of the film, two characters are shown dead and bloody on the rocks, having failed to survive their redlighting. Brief scene of two dead people (the main character's parents) in a morgue.

  • sex false2

    Sex: Marlena and August embrace and kiss in front of other people. Jacob and Marlena flirt with each other, dance, and eventually make love, but the scene isn't explicit. In one scene, August forces Jacob and Marlena to dance with each other and stare into each other's eyes, as if to prove they have feelings for each other. Scenes of burlesque dancers stripping, though only bare backs are shown. A couple scenes of heavy flirting and verbal innuendo between a stripper and Jacob, as well as euphemistic references to him not being able to perform sexually due to drunkenness.

  • language false2

    Language: Language includes a couple of "s--t"s, plus "goddamned," "hell," "damn," "balls," "coochie girls," and "ass."

  • consumerism false0

    Consumerism: Not applicable

  • drugsalcoholtobacco false2

    Drinking, drugs and smoking: Lots of alcohol consumption -- both by adults who drink to excess and by animals, who are given liquor to soothe their nerves and usher them to sleep. In one scene, the main characters get very drunk, stumbling and passing out; Jacob wakes up hungover and laughing, dressed as a clown. Adults are also shown smoking era-accurate cigars and cigarettes.