The One and Only Ivan (2020)

The One and Only Ivan (2020) Cover

The One and Only Ivan, a film based on the children's novel by K. A. Applegateit (which won the Newbery Medal for its success in literature for children), was dumped on Disney+ this weekend. Despite being sweet-hearted and good intentioned, the film lacks an intriguing or focused narrative. Everything that happens is predictable, causing the plot to lack any form of excitement. The characters are too perfectly polished and children-friendly to feel remotely relatable or interesting to watch; their dialogue feels entirely contrived or condescendingly doltish.

Ivan (Sam Rockwell), a gorilla, and his animal friends at the Big Top Mall perform for Mack (Bryan Cranston), their owner, to an audience that is slowly dwindling as the years pass by. The film follows events at the mall which do target deep themes (particularly for kids) ranging from failure, loss, jealousy, animal captivity, and change. 

It is a challenge to describe the focus of the film, or the primary conflict, because there are so many facets that it chooses to focus on, from a new baby elephant taking the spotlight away from Ivan, to asking who you are, dealing with a friend passing, and trying to escape comfort (or familiarity in the hopes of finding somewhere greater). The themes are admirably touched on (I said to myself, “Aw, that’s real sweet”)  but I never felt the emotional pathos directors intended because we swiftly move past each of the variety of conflicts rapidly without fleshing out any characters that ring true or authentic. 

Disney has tons of money and so not surprisingly the production quality is acceptable. However, while none of the CGI is distracting, my eyes were never impressed with any particular scene’s cinematography. I’ll cut them slack, as the setting is entirely at a mall; in front of and behind a performance stage (which a change of scenery would have felt refreshing). As a Breaking Bad fan, I know Bryan Cranston is capable of giving a captivating performance but this story did not give him any opportunity to shine. Additionally, some of the actions he makes at the end of the film do not make any sense based upon the unexpected change he experiences leading to the final moments of the film; this added to the reason why I wanted to roll my eyes thinking, “This is so fake”. Angelina Jolie, Danny DeVito, and Helen Mirren voice three of Ivan’s animal friends that are pleasant to hear speak. However, despite great vocal performances and production standards, the rushed artificial script is what prevents these adorable characters from becoming real enough to care for on an emotional level, making the short 95 minute film feel way longer than it actually is.

While the characters and script feel forced, the film paradoxically is inspired by a real gorilla named Ivan. The best aspect of the film is the ending when the film shows clips of the real gorilla and explains his incredible story of going from a cruel small confinement to a larger and more caring home. It was at this sole point at the end of the film that my heart felt warm from knowing that the events I saw slightly resembled how this real gorilla lived and obtained a better life before passing.

Final Verdict:Sweet, charming, contrived, and for kids only.