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  • Nate Adams

Review: 'The One and Only Ivan' will appease kiddos and leave adults underwhelmed

Courtesy of Disney


Though a superior alternative to the Robert Downey Jr clunker “Dolittle” from earlier this year, Disney’s “The One and Only Ivan” is the type of family flick that’ll distract younger eyeballs, so the adults can get some work done. 

Based on Katherine Applegate’s award winning book and, as the opening title card suggests, is “Inspired by a true story,” “The One and Only Ivan” should have been a more thoughtful adventure considering the talent involved, but they deserve credit for trying to piece together and unpack mature themes in a harmless manner. 

Sam Rockwell lends his vocals to the 400-pound title silverback gorilla whose entire life has been spent in captivity. He narrates the entire feature as the main attraction of the Big Top Mall & Video Arcade. His act consists of thumping his chest and letting out big roars to audiences who drive miles to see him perform, though, behind the scenes, Ivan likes to keep it chill. He lounges with his canine best friend (voiced by Danny DeVito), as well as the older and wiser elephant Stella (Angeline Jolie), and little girl Julia (Ariana Greenblatt), the daughter of George, the janitor of the mall.

As it goes, the shopping center has taken a financial hit, and Ivan’s crew of misfits doesn’t attract the audiences they used too. Mack (Bryan Cranston) the owner and mastermind who raised Ivan and turned him into a money-making machine, hopes that by acquiring baby elephant Ruby (Brooklyn Prince) it will inspire patrons to return, which is a huge blow to Ivan’s enlarged ego. When tragedy strikes the group, Ivan develops a set of impressive artistic skills to help boost sales, but often recalls earlier, better, memories of being free in the wild and wants to keep a promise he made to Ruby. 

Rockwell is the backbone of this kiddie charmer, and his banter with some of the other animals (among them are “Hamilton’s” Phillipa Soo as parrot Thelma, Mike White’s hypercaffeinated seal Frankie, and Helen Mirren as Mack’s poodle Snickers) are light and carefree and perfectly blends in with the Disney formula. Unlike “The Call of the Wild” from earlier this year, the hybrid of CGI animals and live-action mostly works here. 

Kids will get a kick out of the humor - which includes an obligatory “Why did the chicken cross the road?” bit and the occasional fart, because kids love fart jokes right? Still, there's compassion here for the animals - all the humans in the film have a deep affection for the creatures - and director Thea Sharrock upholds the main component of the book: that freedom is better than captivity, which in these times is an ironic message for children to chew on while stuck at home. 

Though I don’t think the target demographic will understand the crux of what “Ivan” is saying other than animals like to be in the wild, there was potential here for the movie to tackle the relationships and bonds molded between humans and animals. In the end, “The One and Only Ivan” purely sticks to the basics and ends up feeling right at home in the Disney+ canon. 

Grade: C+ 

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN premieres exclusively on Disney+ starting Friday August 21st. 


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