Other than Artemis Fowl and Onward, the only Disney movie that can possibly make it to our watch list this year is The One and Only Ivan. It is a wonderful experience that gives a glimpse of Ivan’s true life story through the medium of cinema. To shine some light on the story, Ivan was a huge, mighty, silverback gorilla brought as a baby from the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1960s and given a life among humans in the United States, away from poachers and hunters. Ivan lived with his owners for the first few years of his life, before he was moved to the B&I Shopping Center in Tacoma (Washington) for public exhibition, where he would spend the next 27 years of his life. This family drama film attempts to depict the plight of millions of such animals that are raised in captivity inside zoos and circuses for their entire lives, leaving absolutely no freedom for them to explore the natural world.
Talking animals blended flawlessly with the real world on screen has always been an attractive cinematic style for as long as we can remember. Movies like Stuart Little and Cats and Dogs remain some of the most memorable experiences for many of us, in that regard. The One and Only Ivan, co-produced by Angelina Jolie, also features her voice as the wise elephant Stella, while energetic Ivan takes the voice of Sam Rockwell—both animals living in captivity inside a circus center run by Mack (Bryan Cranston), Ivan’s caretaker.
The film is not entirely based on Ivan’s true story, though. It is a slightly fictionalized and fancier version of his story based on a children’s book written by Katherine Applegate, which was published in 2012. The movie hasn’t been produced in a very large, grand manner, as you might expect initially. In fact, most of the scenes have been carefully created focusing on the mundane confines of zoos, which the caged animals see every single day of their lives. This might have been devised as a unique element essentially required by the story. The computer-generated visuals of the talking gorilla and other animals are very easy on the eyes and can make you wonder, “Just how do they do it?” As a matter of fact, Ivan’s struggle, brought to attention by media and public campaigns, made his and several other animals’ release possible.
Since Ivan was brought up by humans, his nature was different from that of other gorillas living in the wild. He inherited a lot of human characteristics making him more understanding, sympathetic, and yes—he could also paint wonderfully with his fingernails! The movie has done a fantastic job of showing off the very best of his abilities in the most creative manner. “The Headliner” of the show, as he calls himself, Ivan acts as the most important attraction for Mack’s entertainment show, attracting herds of people and children every day to watch him growling, beating his chest, and performing other acts. Other than Ivan, the circus also brings on stage a sea lion who balances a ball on its face (voiced by Mike White), a witty chicken named Henrietta (Chaka Khan), a rabbit named Murphy who drives a tiny fire truck (Ron Funches), and a beautiful, young elephant called Ruby (Brooklynn Prince) who is brought to replace Ivan as the key attraction of the circus and give a fresh breath of life to the shows. Also, be prepared for some kickass humor from the cute but gabby street dog named Bob (voiced by Danny DeVito), as he mocks humans, saying “Why do the humans think they can go around naming everything?”
Angelina Jolie’s humanitarian actions have indeed found a grand way to the big screen. In 2017, her film First They Killed my Father was another humane creation. Perhaps there is no other force more influential than films that can spark change in society. The One and Only Ivan is not your typical action/adventure drama from Disney. It is a film of substance, of heart, and is a kind request to alter your vision toward other creatures of this planet.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.