Remember in King Kong when the mighty ape had been chained and reduced to cheap entertainment, in his rage and fear broke free from his chains and went on a rampage? Kong tore through the streets looking for an escape only to be gunned down by man, it’s a tragic story of how man is the cruelest of all creatures. In 1994 during a circus performance in Honolulu, Hawaii – a circus elephant broke free, killed its trainer and escaped onto the streets only to be shot repeatedly by law enforcement to horror of the public.
Tyke was that elephant’s name and this documentary want to tell the story of Tyke before the incident and the following aftermath. The issue however is that film is unclear with its message, it’s trying to stay objective but it loses a clear narrative focus. It only covers small instances of Tyke’s life, mostly covering the experience of one trainer, the last elephant trainer who worked with Tyke before the attack. The trainer, Tyrone gives detailed accounts on many occasions where he realised Tyke wanted to escape and how dangerous it was to have the elephant continue being a performer in circuses. It is implied heavily that Tyke was abused into becoming a circus elephant but the film is unable to go in-depth with Tyke’s early years because of limited access.
The documentary also covers the aftermath extensively, witness interviews, interviews with law makers and lots of archive footage of the day in question. That’s when the film tries to become a debate piece on animal cruelty in circuses. It is an important topic to be addressed in Tyke’s story but the balance of content in the film is un even, nothing making a lasting impact except for Tyke’s death. A warning to everyone thinking about watching this film, you see Tyke die and its very hard to watch. It’s clear to anyone the animal was scared, bleeding and his fired upon many times – it’s a unforgettable thing watching Tyke die. The rest of the film however lacks those strong powerful moments, it consists of many talking heads and while the film reveals that significant changes were made after Tyke’s death but the film can’t create an impactful moment for the audience.
While informative, Tyke Elephant Outlaw fails to find a clear narrative structure to its story. It wants to tell a few different stories that gives the film conflicting messages that takes away from the story’s emotional strength. Tyke the elephant should be remembered and his story should be told but the film doesn’t dive deep enough into the journey of this elephant. It’s clear why Tyke escaped on that day but the documentary needed more than what it had to tell their story.