In times like these, we could all do with something a little magical, and it’s here that Walt Disney’s The One and Only Ivan comes into play. This is the film we need right now, and audiences will be dazzled with its emotional, heartfelt story and its eclectic group of characters.
A gorilla named Ivan tries to piece together his past with the help of an elephant named Stella as they hatch a plan to escape from captivity.
Directed by Thea Sharrock, The One and Only Ivan has been adapted from the best-selling book by K. A. Applegate, and which is in turn based on the true-life story of Ivan, a gorilla who stunned the world after it was learnt that he could paint, and who was set free from captivity after 27 years. Sharrock brings a sense of major and wonder to The One and Only Ivan with her high-concept CGI visuals that brings this colourful cast of anthropomorphic characters to life. But it’s her focus on the film’s story of family and the quest for freedom that will pull at the audience’s heartstrings. Sharrock focuses on the conflicting nature that can arise between humans and the animal kingdom, and this film has a solid environmental message that most definitely strikes a chord with young and old audiences alike.
Taking on the lead role of Ivan is Academy Award-winning actor Sam Rockwell, and he brings his usual dry wit and likeable character to this big-bodied, big-hearted gorilla. As a character, Ivan is billed as the star of the show at The Big Top Mall, but in reality, he’s very much an everyman who is searching for meaning in the world, while also trying to help those around him in his extended circus family. Rockwell brings a sincerity to the character of Ivan, who is somewhat of a lost soul until he is given charge of a baby elephant named Ruby (Brooklynn Prince), and becomes determined to see her to freedom. Making this his mission, Ivan and his family around him work to find a way back to nature and it’s here where The One and Only Ivan takes off. After watching this film I couldn’t think of anyone better suited to the role of Ivan than Rockwell, and he does something special with this character.
Joining Rockwell in The One and Only Ivan, and dishing out plenty of comic relief, is the always delightful Danny DeVito. DeVito, a long time Disney veteran, stars as Bob, a stray dog who is Ivan’s best friend and who is content to take each moment as it comes. That is until he sees how much pain Ivan and his family are in due to their lack of freedom and it’s then that he encourages Ivan in his plan to ‘break out’ of the mall. As always DeVito is an absolute hoot in the role and delivers plenty of cracking dialogue and off-beat comedic hi-jinks.
Giving the film it’s gravitas and spirit is Angelina Jolie, who not only produced the film, but who alos voices the sage-like elephant Stella. Stella is the matriarch of this family, and who has sadly spent all of her life in captivity never having seen the freedom of the outside world. She’s a character who speaks with a graceful authority and who desires that her newfound adopted niece Ruby learn about all the beauty of the outside world. Jolie’s performance is incredibly heartfelt and you can feel that she was making this film for her children, and wished to inspire others to look out on the beauty of the world around them through her performance as this wise and noble elephant. Jolie’s performance will have a profound effect on all audiences and the character of Stella certainly stays with you.
Finally bringing The One and Only Ivan together is show-stopping performer Bryan Cranston as Mac, the owner of The Big Top Mall Circus and who is the film’s most complicated and layered character. Cranston’s Mac very much reflects the idea of man as both friend, and foe, to the animals that we share this world with. While he is deeply loving and affectionate to the animals that make-up his circus, he eventually develops a callous business-like authority in order to drive them to perform so he can keep the show, and the mall, going. While fundamentally a good man, it’s this conflict that keeps you off-guard and I found that as an audience member it’s very difficult to reconcile with how you see Mac, which is a testament to how good of a performer Cranston is.
The One and Only Ivan has a style all it’s own, possessing this quintessential American feeling to it, and even though its setting reflects the late 1980s to early 1990s, it feels entirely contemporary at the same time due to its due environmental message. This focus on the interaction between animal and man brings you deeper into this story, and it’s this narrative of interpersonal relationships between our two species where The One and Only Ivan finds its rhythm. It is a film that has that quintessential Disney magic about it, and you can’t be helped but pulled into this beautiful movie.
In these uncertain times that we currently live in a film such as The One and Only Ivan is sure to lift up your spirit and make your heart sing with that quintessential joy that only Disney storytelling can bring. This film is pure magic and enchants in every way possible. You’ll love it.
Image: Walt Disney Pictures