THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN is the latest film from director Thea Sharrock (Me Before You) based on the award-winning book by Katherine Applegate that centers around one very special gorilla. The film, which is a hybrid of live-action and CGI, features Bryan Cranston, Ramon Rodriguez, and Ariana Greenblatt as well as the voice talents of Sam Rockwell (Ivan), Angelina Jolie (Stella), Danny DeVito (Bob the Dog), Helen Mirren (Snickers the Poodle), Brooklynn Prince (Ruby), Chaka Khan (Henrietta the Chicken), Mike White (Frankie the Seal), Ron Funches (Murphy the Rabbit), and Phillipa Soo (Thelma the Parrott).
To best describe the film, I’ll turn to the official Disney synopsis: “Ivan is a 400-pound silverback gorilla who shares a communal habitat in a suburban shopping mall with Stella the elephant, Bob the dog, and various other animals. He has few memories of the jungle where he was captured, but when a baby elephant named Ruby arrives, it touches something deep within him. Ruby is recently separated from her family in the wild, which causes him to question his life, where he comes from and where he ultimately wants to be.”
First and foremost, the most impressive element of THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN is, by far, the use of live-action acting in sync with the CGI animals. The VFX team did a tremendous job of creating the animals to look as life-like as possible, especially Ivan. Watching the CGI animals interact with the actors was seamless allowing for the film to have a more grounded feel to it. Considering the film has to do with Ivan and the rest of the animals in search of their freedom, I appreciated that no real animals (to my knowledge) were used during filming.
As for the voice acting, everyone did a great job with special nods going to Sam Rockwell (Ivan), Danny DeVito (Bob the Dog), and Brooklynn Prince (Ruby) as they were the ones who truly carried the film. That said, I felt like the addition of all the secondary animal characters were a bit overwhelming – almost as if there were too many cooks in the kitchen. Those characters featured voice performances from some of the most acclaimed and notable actors in the industry and though there is nothing wrong with having those characters get not as much screen time, it felt almost forced to have them all there. I realize it’s not always prevalent to have a deep analysis of secondary characters but in the case of THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN, having so many featured in such a short run time felt distracting.
At its core, this film is about freedom. However, it also deals with themes such as death and grief as well as acceptance and hope. I felt as though a lot of Mack’s (Bryan Cranston) personality trait were the result of his trauma which he would then project onto the people around him. But when it came time for Ivan to leave, I don’t think Mack truly understood how detrimental it was to have kept Ivan in his cage for 27 years (only being allowed to come out when he would perform). Furthermore, I would have loved to have seen the storyline between Julia (Ariana Greenblatt) and Ivan explored more. Julia is the one responsible for giving Ivan the crayons to start drawing and she herself has her own story of heartache due to her mother being sick. However, we never really see Julia, along with her father George (Ramon Rodriguez), storyline come to its full fruition. They both felt underutilized especially considering that Julia had a special connection with Ivan.
THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN is, on the surface, a film that is directed more towards a younger audience who will appreciate seeing the cute animals; however, I think there is potential that the bigger themes will be lost on them. Though I wanted more from the film and felt it was anticlimactic, I still think it’s an important story that should be told. If we were to analyze it even deeper we could apply a lot of the themes to the world today, especially in regards to keeping living beings inside cages. THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN may not have hit all the right notes for me, but it was a solid attempt at trying to convey a beautiful and important message.
For more on THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN, check out our recap of the press conference here. THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN is now available to watch on Disney+.