Book vs. Movie: Water for Elephants

Book vs. Movie: Water for Elephants

Time for another Book vs. Movie! This time it’s Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. It’s the story of Jacob, who runs away to the circus during the Depression when his life falls apart around him. There, he works as the show’s vet, and falls ever more in love with Marlena, the star of the circus and beautiful wife of the temperamental ringmaster August. When the circus acquires an elephant for a new act, it changes everything.

I read the book back in October on the way home from New York – between the airport layover and actual flights, I finished it in one day. To say I liked it might be understating things. And this past week, I finally got around to watching the movie. Happily, it was a pretty faithful adaptation, and I liked it, too. But here’s a break-down of which format did what better:




  • A really good read that pulls on your heartstrings and makes you laugh.
  • A good length – not too quick, not too long/slow.
  • The ending – satisfying, and all wrapped up.
  • Explains circus lingo in an unobtrusive way.
  • Did a better job of painting a picture of Depression-era America.
  • Christoph Waltz – he played his character (August) perfectly. And I’m guessing playing a charming sociopath isn’t easy. But man. He was at turns likable and scary, just like in the book.
  • Really good job of condensing the whole book into 2 hours while hitting all of the most important plot points.
  • Still a good ending, though I found it less believable in this format.
  • Beautiful cinematography and great costumes.


  • It jumped between present-day Jacob and his memories a bit too much. I preferred how they did it in the movie, with just a small intro and closure with him as an old man.
  • Robert Pattinson. I’m normally just indifferent to him as an actor (I don’t hold Twilight against him or anything), but I didn’t think he was the best fit for Jacob, the main character. Though he did pull off the Polish well.
  • It kind of glossed over some of the side storylines regarding Jacob’s fellow circus workers (pay issues, illness from jake, red-lighting). They were present, but not given the attention they got in the book.

Rosie (the elephant) was adorable in both. Overall, I really liked both the book and the movie, and I think you’ll get an equally good story experience from either format.

Have you read the book or seen the movie? What did you think?

I give both 4/5 stars.

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Water for Elephants


  1. I love this book, but was less enamored with the movie. However, this tends to happen to me a lot when it comes to book-to-movie adaptations. I just didn’t find it as captivating in movie form as I did while reading the book. I do agree it was a good adaptation, but for me the book was riveting and the movie was just so-so.

    1. Fair enough! I agree I was drawn in more by the book, but I find books are more conducive to that than movies anyway, so I wasn’t really expecting it with the movie. Plus when you read the book before the movie, you already know the story, so the suspense isn’t as great. Unless they completely change things up for the movie version.

  2. Water for Elephants is one of my most favorite books. I decided to not watch the movie when I heard it was coming out simply because I didn’t want to possibly ruin the experience I’d had with the book if the movie wasn’t up-to-par. I hate being so enamored with a book and then a crappy movie version comes along and tarnishes it! I’m glad to hear from you that the WfE movie isn’t complete garbage though. Maybe I’ll give it a try one day.