“The One and Only Ivan” stars Sam Rockwell, Angelina Jolie, Bryan Cranston, Ramón Rodríguez, Brooklynn Prince, Ariana Greenblatt, Danny DeVito, and Helen Mirren. Released on Disney+ on August 21, 2020, the film has a gorilla and an elephant taking care of a baby elephant with their owner.
The film is directed by Thea Sharrock, who also directed “Me Before You”, and it is based on the 2012 children’s novel of the same name by Katherine Applegate. Another week, another Disney+ exclusive for me to talk about. This is another Disney film that was originally set for a theatrical release until the pandemic forced it to become a Disney+ original. I don’t really blame the studio for using this strategy again since they really want to share their recent stories to their audiences, especially the one that ticked off a lot of fans of a well-known book series. I’m not at all familiar with the novel it’s based on, but I was willing to see it because my mother and I are suckers for films that feature talking animals, whether they’re good or not, and yes, that’s the same reason why I saw “Show Dogs” two years ago. Thankfully, this film doesn’t look as iffy as “Show Dogs”, so I should have an easier time reviewing it. Similar to last week’s “Magic Camp”, the film features some of its recognizable stars and a plot that’s as heartwarming and cute as a box full of puppies, which should make for another suitable distraction for the kids, but are these things enough to distract the parents as well?
The film’s story follows Ivan (Rockwell), a silverback gorilla who lives in an enclosure at the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade with the other animals including an elephant named Stella (Jolie) and a stray dog named Bob (DeVito). The mall’s owner Mack (Cranston) hosts several shows for the animals to perform in front of his customers. One day, a baby elephant named Ruby (Prince) arrives and Stella takes her under her wing, or in this case, trunk. An unexpected event forces Ivan to attempt to break Ruby and the other animals out of captivity and lead them back to the wild. The film is indeed based on a children’s novel, but it is also based on the real-life Ivan, a western lowland gorilla who had been in that same situation for 27 years until he was properly placed at Woodland Park Zoo in 1994. He went on to spend his remaining years at Zoo Atlanta until his death in August 2012. I got to be honest with you guys, I didn’t realize that it was based on a true story until it said that it is based on a true story. It’s funny how movies like this can teach you something that you didn’t already know. Similar to its source material, the story is told from the point of view of Ivan, which can offer young viewers an interesting experience of watching a fact-based film. Now, you’re probably thinking that this looks like another talking animal movie with plenty of gross-out humor and cringe-worthy dialogue. It’s true that this is another film that has animals speaking English with their CGI mouths. However, it mostly focuses on delivering a heartfelt and dramatic story with these elements rather than throwing corny jokes and pop culture references left and right, which can be a sign of relief for people who’ve grown tired of these types of films. The story explores the concept of animal captivity in a family-friendly matter. It teaches kids that even though it’s fun to see animals perform at a circus or at a show that’s in an amusement park, it’s even more fun to see animals live in their natural habitat. It’s an important topic to understand if they’re planning on taking a job that involves caring for the animals, which I humbly respect, but is the film good enough to represent its sense of importance? Well, because of the fact that its main theme was told in a PG-rated matter, there were a few moments that felt a bit too safe when it comes to its storytelling and Thea Sharrock’s direction. Other than that, I would say that this is one of the better “talking animal” films I’ve seen so far. Its pacing was good enough to keep the kids’ eyes glued to the screen, and the animal characters were able to earn their charm by being actual characters instead of one-dimensional comic reliefs. The voice cast delivered some remarkable vocal performances, ranging from the talented Rockwell as Ivan to the adorable Prince as Ruby, which proves that a celebrity voice cast can put on a dang good show if the script is right for them. The human cast wasn’t so bad either, with the main highlight being Bryan Cranston, who added plenty of levity and heart into his role as Mack. Based on what I saw, the animals were created with CGI, which might disappoint some viewers who wanted to see real-life animals perform some of the easiest stunts, but to be honest, they actually looked pretty darn good. They didn’t feel out of place or anything like that. It felt kind of nice to see the animals move their mouths and display their facial expressions fluently without making the CGI look very jarring. Even though its blend of kid-friendly elements and mature themes were a bit uneven, I thought Sharrock did a decent job at attempting to provide a soul within this type of story through its charm and visuals without dumbing things down for the young viewers. It’s not a perfect representation of this concept, but Sharrock was able to make that voice heard while delivering some cute moments that will please both kids and adults.
Overall, “The One and Only Ivan” didn’t provide a lot of emotional stakes into its subject matter. However, it was able to rise above the subpar, kid-friendly talking animal films by offering the right amount of heart and charm into its flawed, yet endearing, story. Its solid cast, the remarkable visuals, and its soulful plot were the main reasons why this film is another hit for the family-friendly streaming service. Hopefully it will get people to understand that these types of movies are more than just kid stuff. Only time will tell, I guess.