REVIEW: The One And Only Ivan
Arriving on Disney+ today is The One and Only Ivan!
Inspired by a true story and adapted from the 2012 Newbery Medal-winning novel by Katherine Applegate, The One and Only Ivan follows the silverback gorilla Ivan (Sam Rockwell) who is the headliner at the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade just off Exit 8. Ivan was rescued from poachers by Mack (Bryan Cranston) who raises him since he was a baby. At one point, he was made the main attraction of a circus at a mall with a menagerie of animals, including Snickers the poodle (Helen Mirren), Henrietta the chicken (Chaka Kahn), the wise elephant Stella (Angelina Jolie) and, of course, Ivan's dog Bob (Danny Devito).
One day, after languishing declines in audience attendance, Mack brings in a baby elephant named Ruby (Brooklynn Prince) who is, at first, afraid of her new surroundings. But, she is quickly taken in by Stella and forms a friendship with Ivan. Due to some tragic events, Ivan finds himself promising to take Ruby back to the wild. At the same time, Ivan starts developing some artistic skills and, one day, paints the wild. People started to realize that he wanted to be free and fought for his freedom.
I was genuinely touched by this movie. I don't know why I am surprised anymore by the kind of movies released on Disney+ these days. I think it is because Disney originally intended to release this in the theaters but, due to COVID-19, made this be one of the films to move over. I actually think they did the movie a favor where this will have a wider audience. In this day of the big epic, this film is just small enough to escape theater audience attention. Just think about the live action Dumbo and how that did in the theaters. And this, in my humble opinion, was the better "big top" movie.
The computer animation on the animals are top notch, especially on Ivan who has the most human movements and features. Combined with Rockwell's more muted and emotional performance, Ivan becomes a fully fleshed and beloved character.
My only problem with the film was it didn't really establish a real villain. We are supposed to believe that most humans are bad...enough to escape from...but, Mack and his assistant George (Ramón Rodríguez) and George's daughter Julia (Ariana Greenblatt) all seemed like good and caring people. Really, though, the story is about freedom. All these animals were taken from their natural habitat and put into confined cells where they almost didn't know any better. In fact, Ivan refused to remember until Ruby kept pushing him and Bob told him that there's a difference between can't remembering and won't remembering.
I think there is enough heart here that will touch both children and adults alike and it is just succinct enough to keep the attention of both. It's just nice to have a summer film that slows itself down a bit from the high flying superheroes and lightsaber wielding Jedi. Be sure to stay through the beginning of the credits where you get to see the true story of Ivan.