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Based on the children’s novel by K.A. Applegate, inspired by the true story of Ivan the gorilla, The One and Only Ivan debuted on Disney+ on August 21, 2020. Originally planned for a theatrical release, this Thea Sharrock-directed film went straight to streaming, most likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What do I think of the film? Read on to find out!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
The film opens up with our titular character, Ivan the gorilla, introducing himself and the premise of the film.
Ivan, voiced by Sam Rockwell, is a gorilla who lives and works at the Big Top Mall. He is the headliner of a circus performance show located in the middle of the mall, a show run by Ivan’s owner, Mack, played by Bryan Cranston. Other animal performers that appear in the show include a poodle named Snickers (voiced by Helen Mirren), a chicken named Henrietta (voiced by Chaka Khan), a rabbit named Murphy (voiced by Ron Funches), a macaw named Thelma (voiced by Phillipa Soo) and an elephant named Stella (voiced by Angelina Jolie).
Ivan’s best friend happens to be a stray dog, Bob, voiced by Danny DeVito, who isn’t supposed to be in Ivan’s enclosure backstage, but often sneaks past the security.
Every day they perform the show and every night they rest in their enclosures backstage and prepare for the next day. However crowds have been dwindling in recent years resulting in Mack trying to come up with a way to draw crowds back. Mack decides to buy a baby elephant, because crowds love baby elephants. The elephant, Ruby, is voiced by Brooklynn Prince.
Ruby takes a shine to Ivan and often pesters him with questions especially at night.
Ruby is too young to have any memories of the wild so a lot of her questions revolve around what living free in the wild was like. Stella sadly passes away soon after, but not before asking Ivan to look after Ruby and promise her that Ruby will be a free, wild animal again.
Mack tries to train Ruby afterwards to take Stella’s place, but it’s to no avail. By now, Ivan has started doodling things on paper after being gifted crayons by Julia, the daughter of the mall’s janitor, played by Ariana Greenblatt. When Mack discovers this, he realizes that he’s found his next lifesaver in the drawing gorilla, but Ivan doesn’t cooperate and refuses to draw in the next show still focused on setting Ruby free.
Later that night, Ivan along with all the other animals break out of their enclosures and escape into the forest nearby.
They’re disappointed though when they discover that the forest is really small and that houses are just on the other side. By now, Mack has discovered their disappearance and tracks the animals back to the forest. He convinces Ivan and the others to come back reminding them that they’re family.
Julia brings Ivan finger paints and he begins to paint murals. The next day, news of the escape has leaked out, which Mack denies. Mack continues with the show and Ivan cooperates allowing the public to see him paint. The crowds are astonished and due to media coverage, the news travels fast. Julia realizes that Ivan is painting a mural of the wild and hints to Mack that Ivan wants to be free. Pretty soon, the public starts to protest outside the mall demanding that all the animals be freed.
Mack gives in and shuts down the circus sending the animals to proper environments. Ivan is sent to Zoo Atlanta and is happy to see that Ruby is in the enclosure next to him. He’s pleased with himself of having kept his promise to Stella. The film ends with footage of the real-life Ivan.
And that was The One and Only Ivan! It’s a good enough film, but it lacks focus. From the trailers, it seemed that the escape from the mall was the main focus of the film, however that scene lasts like 5 minutes! It also seems that Ivan drawing and painting is the main focus of the film, but that is also shown sporadically throughout the film. Maybe the focus of the film was to promote freeing animals in circus acts? Even then, it was a very roundabout way of doing it. I dunno, I feel the writing needed some work!
Bryan Cranston gave a great performance as well as Sam Rockwell (who hasn’t failed me in a performance yet). A lot of the CGI was great and realistic, but some others weren’t quite so much. All in all, the writing is what makes this film suffer greatly.
So, my final score for this film is 24/35 = 68.57% (D+) !
The next review will be posted on October 12, 2021.