It’s almost Halloween, and you know what that means — time to get excited for this year’s lineup of new Christmas movies!
Netflix announced its upcoming original holiday programming on Tuesday, and the first festive movie to hit the streaming service this year will be the romantic comedy Holiday in the Wild (Nov. 1), for which EW is exclusively unveiling the trailer, above. The film follows Kate (Kristin Davis), a recently jilted Manhattanite who goes on a solo African safari after her husband dumps her. After helping her pilot (Rob Lowe) rescue an orphaned baby elephant in Zambia, Kate is so enamored with the elephants and inspired by the work of the conservationists she meets, she decides to stay through the holidays.
Davis and Lowe had previously worked together in the 1999 TV miniseries Atomic Train. “He really is amazing,” Davis gushes of Lowe. “He’s so funny, he brings his own take to everything in such a great way, and you know, he’s obviously really great to look at.”
But he wasn’t her only swoon-worthy co-star. The elephants who Kate and Derek work to save steal the spotlight throughout the whole movie, and the production made them a priority from the start. The plot was partially inspired by Davis’ own story of learning about the poaching crisis and becoming involved in wildlife conservation, and the actress (who also serves as executive producer) was determined that they would not shoot the movie with trained elephants. “That’s the old way,” she says. “It’s not respectful to the animals. We cannot make an animal movie about people saving animals and be disrespectful to the elephants.”
The film was originally set up at a different company (which Davis doesn’t name), but found a home at Netflix, which was willing to take a chance (and spend some money) on an untraditional, uncompromisingly elephant-friendly approach. After years of research, Davis found two sanctuaries, in Zambia and South Africa, where they ended up filming — not that it was easy to get them. “I had to go down there and prove myself to them, because they don’t trust Hollywood people — and I totally understand why,” she says.
The Holiday in the Wild shoot was ultimately unlike what they might have expected based on Hollywood’s history, however. “It was all about the elephants’ comfort and safety,” Davis says. On the first day they filmed with the big elephants, the crew set up the cameras and then watched from the land cruisers, since the elephants are used to having tourists in vehicles around them. Only the actors were on the ground. “It was just magical,” Davis says. “And no one could talk, everyone had to whisper. I mean, it was kind of amazing that it actually worked.”
Holiday in the Wild is “my love letter to the people who are trying to save elephants,” Davis says. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the movie is a fizzy, festive rom-com, but that doesn’t mean that the wildlife is relegated to a wacky backdrop for the love story. “We wanted to celebrate them,” Davis says. “Because the love of elephants is what’s going to save them.”