Review: The One and Only Ivan

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

one and only Ivan poster

PLOT: A gorilla named Ivan (Sam Rockwell), performs in a low-rent carnival housed in a shopping mall. While he has an undeniable bond with the circus's owner (Bryan Cranston), he starts to feel conflicted when he and a carnival elephant named Stella (Angelina Jolie), become the de facto guardians of the latest addition to the show, a baby elephant named Ruby (Brooklynn Prince).

REVIEW: Let it be known, THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN made my girlfriend cry not once, not twice, but thrice. For those not in the know, this was originally set to be a theatrical release for Disney, until those plans were sidelined by the pandemic, leading to this film's debut on Disney+. Based on the popular children's book by K. A. Applegate, I'm pretty sure that had this movie gone theatrical it would have been a success, as it's pretty hard not to be moved by this big-hearted tale, even if, I must admit, I didn't cry once (sorry – I'm made of stone).

Sam Rockwell voices the titular gorilla, who's the star attraction of his low rent carnival, which operates in a budget strip mall. While I initially thought this premise strained credibility, I was stunned to realize that there actually was a real-life Ivan, with this based, in part, on a legit painting gorilla who, like in the movie, was housed in a strip mall. Taking place in the eighties (although this is conveyed subtly), Ivan is kinda fine with his predicament. He has genuine affection for the hammy owner-operator of his circus, Mack (Bryan Cranston – giving it his all), while he also gets along with the other animals, all of whom are voiced by superstars, especially a stray mutt named Bob (Danny DeVito) and a sickly elephant named Stella (Angelina Jolie).

He's also well-loved by the daughter of the mall's janitor, Julia (Ariana Greenblatt), who gives him some old crayons after being gifted a new set by Mack, unleashing the artist within the cynical Ivan. The movie is a bid to end animal captivity and it's hard not to sympathize, although to their credit Cranston's Mack is portrayed as pretty sympathetic. While he's a touch mean to DeVito's stray dog (preferring his elegant poodle, naturally voiced by the regal Helen Mirren), he seems to love Ivan and doesn't abuse the animals, although he certainly exploits them.

Everything kicks into high gear once the circus gets an adorable new baby elephant, which is quickly adopted by Stella, and if you don't know where this is going from the second Stella starts to limp, you've never seen a Disney animal movie. While pretty sad at times, THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN is pretty cutting edge in some ways, with the animal CGI being pretty flawless. Ivan even kinda looks like Rockwell in the same way DRAGONHEART's Draco looked like Sean Connery. Rockwell brings both warmth and a healthy touch of cynicism to the part, keeping it from getting too cutesy, while DeVito is aces as a mangy mutt (his second time voicing a pup – after LOOK WHO'S TALKING NOW).

In some ways, this plays almost like an animal version of TOY STORY 4, with the circus gang making up a de facto family, from the wise, matriarchal chicken (voiced by Chaka Khan) to Thelma, the uptight parrot (voiced by HAMILTON's Philippa Soo), although the crux of the film is the relationship between Ivan and the young elephant, Ruby, who he's bent on getting to a much more humane place – the zoo.

Well-shot by director Thea Sharrock, and given some humor via Mike White's not-too-saccharine screenplay, THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN is a really solid family flick for Disney to put out on streaming, and one that I'm sure loads of kids will watch over and over. It's good enough that parents will be fine with repeat viewings, but even if you don't have kids, this isn't a half-bad little tearjerker.


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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.