Is Water for Elephants appropriate for kids?

I read Water for Elephants many many years back and enjoyed it. I didn’t see the movie. I couldn’t even remember precisely what happened in the book, other than a guy joins the circus and there’s a love triangle. So if you ask me whether it follows the book, I think it did. But that’s only from memory. Is Water for Elephants appropriate for kids? We’ll get into that later.

Enjoy the posters around the stage at Water for Elephants. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

The combination of actors and circus performers intrigued me, and for a while, it was hard to know who was a circus performer versus a singer/dancer Broadway performer. The circus performers were also microphoned and singing/dancing. It did become clear, by their actions, who was in which role. And their credits were all impressive.

I recommend show and liked the songs and performances. The animals, which mostly came on later in the performance, were stunning. I won’t give away too much, but they were so graceful and creative. The horse, an early character, was comprised of several parts including the spirit. It was lovely to see the essence of the horse portrayed.

Marlena and Jacob touting Broadway Cares after the show. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

Is Water for Elephants appropriate for kids?

I think many kids will enjoy Water for Elephants. The songs are enjoyable, the set is awesome, and the acrobatics/circus elements are breathtaking. Also the circus animals are creative and evocative, in the same (but a different) way as in The Lion King. The puppets are not intended to look exactly like real animals. But they evoke the animals and they are beautiful and graceful.

Spoilers ahead in this section only.

Here’s where parental decision comes in. There are adult themes in Water for Elephants. Chief among them is domestic violence. August, the ringmaster, is violent against his wife Marlena, the equestrian. He is also violent against two other characters who are thrown off the train, to their death. You won’t see that act, but you’ll hear about it. He is violent against at least one animal, multiple times.

The other adult theme is spouse betrayal – cheating. No nudity, but it’s very clear that Jacob is in love with Marlena, and we find that she is in love with him, and they consummate that love while she’s still married.

There’s a little bit of drunkenness and some gambling as well.

I can’t say whether the levels of these adult themes would be uncomfortable for you and your kids. Some kids who are younger may not understand or notice them. Every kid is different in what they notice and what they question.

If you see Water for Elephants on Broadway

I’m used to waiting in long lines to get into a Broadway show. This one was at a different level, though the line moved quickly enough. We joined the line around the corner on 8th Avenue. From there the line snaked through an empty lot in zigzags, like you do at Disney World. Then you enter.

Line, lines, lines. Trying to get into Water for Elephants. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

The restrooms (except for single-use accessible rooms) are upstairs. The good news is that the women’s room has a decent number of stalls – maybe 10-15. But to get in there, the line went down the stairs, into the hallway, and then back up the stairs. It was nuts! Again, though, the line moved pretty quickly. I waited about 10 minutes before the show, and they did hold the show for about 10 minutes, presumably to clear out the line.

The long line for the women’s room goes down the stairs, through the hall and back up the stairs. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

The official running time is 2 hours 20 minutes, but we were there longer, probably because the show started late. And it was Broadway Cares time, so Jacob and Marlena came back on stage to discuss that.

Also – look closely at the Water for Elephants’ logo- specifically the face/trunk. It’s brilliant.

If you see the show, post in the comments with your thoughts.