The Very Important Saga of Cher and the World’s Loneliest Elephant

Kevin Fallon
·5 min read
Zoobs/Smithsonian Channel
Zoobs/Smithsonian Channel

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Cher, a Sad, Fat Elephant, and Me

Allow me to tell you the saga of a bored and depressed oversized male in his mid-thirties who is so traumatized by spending so much time alone in confined quarters that only Cher can save him.

Ah, but this is not a story about me.

This is the now world-famous story of Kaavan, an abused and deteriorating 36-year-old bull elephant languishing at a dilapidated zoo in Pakistan, who captured the attention of global icon Cher after a viral #FreeKaavan hashtag caught her attention on Twitter. The star sprang into action, diving into research and calling in a network of high-powered favors as part of a five-year international operation to relocate Kaavan from his veritable prison to a sanctuary—a Herculean rescue mission executed in the midst of a deadly pandemic.

It is a spotlight on the animal rights abuses still rampant across the world, and the logistical summits that must be climbed in order to right each individual, horrible case—even ones as famous as Kaavan’s. It is an unlikely new star vehicle for Cher, the queen of reinvention and longevity, and one that suits her well. It is beautiful. It is moving. It is heartbreaking and inspiring.

It is a “song for the lonely,” as Cher quite literally sings as the odyssey unfolds. It is Cher & the Loneliest Elephant.

The documentary premiered on Earth Day on Paramount+, ahead of its linear debut on the Smithsonian Channel on May 19. The appeal of this film is baked right into the title. This is a movie about Cher and the world’s loneliest elephant. I can’t think of a more foolproof logline. What human on this doomed planet has not been waiting for exactly this to watch and uplift them from their eternal malaise of existence? Cher! And! The! Loneliest! Elephant!

How can I sell you on this more? Well, it is about Cher and a lonely elephant, so I frankly don’t know what else to say. I will add that the whole thing is much more exhilarating than I expected. More than just “famous lady makes a few phone calls,” the documentary outlines what a massive effort it was to save Kaavan.

It turns out making an appeal across international borders for a country’s government to close down a zoo, and then figure out a way to transport a four-ton elephant over 2,300 miles—a seven-hour plane ride and then a four-hour drive—all while a pandemic has shut down borders and rendered travel and human contact dangerous is more complicated than Cher seeing a Tweet, ringing up Pakistan, and saying “I’m Cher and I want to free that elephant.” (Though I would defy any government to say no if she did.)

I feel secure in saying that it’s been a week, let alone a year, in which we could all use a happy ending. Or, in this case, a superhero saves-the-day story adapted to real-life stakes. That’s not to say that the exaggerated circumstances, which would seem made up if they weren’t true, isn’t part of the fun: one of the biggest celebrity divas alive spearheads the effort to make a sad elephant’s life a little better.

But for all the joking at the top of the piece, it isn’t hard to see yourself in this journey...even if it’s a stretch. Then again, seeing myself in any narrative that includes the word “Cher” is never that much of a stretch.

<div class="inline-image__credit">Handout</div>
Handout

Especially now, as we’re maybe kind-of-sort-of looking at the possibility of leaving our miserable confines of pandemic isolation—an exciting relief of a prospect—I had to laugh when, after finally getting approval to move Kaavan to freedom at a sanctuary, everyone learned that elephant would have to go on a diet in order to fit on the plane. Kaavan, I get it.

When Cher first gets to Pakistan and meets Kaavan for the first time, she says, “The first thing I noticed is, what is he doing in this hellhole, which is as big as my fingernail?”—a keen observation she might make of all of us in our tiny city apartments for 15 months of a pandemic. Then she says, “He’s so big. I didn’t realize.” Oh, girl…

There’s so much commotion when she arrives that Kaavan is skittish, an unsettling experience I can imagine we might all feel once confronted with hordes of people again for the first time. The only way he can be soothed is if Cher starts singing to him the Frank Sinatra song, “My Way,” which, again, I totally get it.

What I’m saying is that I am the loneliest elephant. The loneliest elephant is me.

Obviously, that’s a joke. But it is fun, and certainly unexpected, to have Cher attached to yet another milestone—being ushered out of the pandemic—as she has for so many of us all the decades of our lives.

Personally, let’s just say that blasting “Believe” non-stop, or coming up with a choreographed routine to “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)” from Mermaids in my childhood bedroom, was a formative part of coming to terms with my identity. My twin nephews were born as I was sleeping off a hangover after attending Cher’s most recent concert tour, once again cementing herself in one of the most important experiences of my life—albeit one in which I don’t come off in the most flattering light. And now this.

Even without all that connection, Cher & the Loneliest Elephant It is the breeziest, most impactful thing I’ve watched this week, an easy, casual viewing that manages to strike you right in the heart. Watch it! It’s nice.

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