“THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN”
Photo | Allison Shearmur Productions
If “Dumbo” is not sad enough for you, Disney has adapted Katherine Applegate’s children’s novel “The One and Only Ivan” into a heartwarming, family film for your sobbing needs. The CGI animals and their human friends explore the complexities of their relationships with one another through the life of Ivan, a silverback gorilla who was born in the wild but found himself living in a mini circus within a shopping mall for decades. And it’s based on a true story.
Voiced by Sam Rockwell, Ivan is pragmatic when it comes to his life in captivity and his relationship with Mack (Bryan Cranston), the human who has raised him since he was a baby. In flashbacks, we see the difficulty of living with a rambunctious and growing Ivan cost Mack his marriage. Mack moved Ivan to a circus he had started in a shopping mall and, with himself as the ringmaster, built a business there.
When the film begins, Ivan and his circus friends, including Angelina Jolie as a very sad elephant, Helen Mirren as a poodle and Danny DeVito as a stray dog, are chugging along at a pace diminished from their former glory. The One and Only Ivan, as a billboard describes him, no longer draws crowds and he is kind of phoning in his ferocious act.
When Mack acquires an adorable baby elephant named Ruby, it does not just reinvigorate the circus crowds; it reminds the older animals of how they began their lives in the wild and jolts them into facing the realities of what life in captivity will look like for Ruby. With the arrival of the baby elephant, the film takes a turn from a lighthearted talking animal caper to a more nuanced look into how the animals came to live in a suburban shopping mall.
Of course, it was humans who removed the animals from their habitat and humans who keep them locked up, but they also care deeply for them now. In addition to the father figure of Mack, a little girl named Julia (Ariana Greenblatt from the TV show “Stuck in the Middle”) is devoted to Ivan and his friends, visiting every day while her father works, drawing pictures and eventually giving Ivan some art supplies of his own. Her connection with him leads him to express himself artistically in one of the film’s most meaningful scenes.
These humans love the animals. The best way to love them is what evolves. Mack started his circus out of necessity and admiration, not malice. He loves Ivan, but the film allows his attitude and understanding to change and grow. This film faces these problems in a fairly mild fashion appropriate to a story for kids but is thought-provoking enough for the whole family.
Originally intended for the big screen, “The One and Only Ivan” was mercifully released to Disney+ for our weary eyes and the relief of something new to watch. It has whimsy and heart and is emotional but not depressing. Cranston is really moving as Mack, conflicted about his role in Ivan’s life in a way that will resonate with parents of humans and animals.
“The One and Only Ivan” really hits a sweet spot for a family film in the tone and effect it achieves. It is a fun, funny, sweet movie, but with some substance that takes it beyond “Trolls” or something like that. For kids who think they have moved beyond animation (sad!), this is a live-action movie with the lighthearted sensibility of a cartoon in many ways — a bunny drives a fire truck, for example. For families with children of a wide range of ages, “The One and Only Ivan” is a worthwhile breath of fresh air that will give you something to think about, talk about and most likely cry about.
“The One and Only Ivan” is streaming on Disney +.
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