With “The One and Only Ivan,” Disney has shipped off yet another one of its’ films intended for theatrical release to Disney+ similar to what they did with “Artemis Fowl” and “Onward.” The move is honestly brilliant but the films themselves have been hit or miss. “Artemis Fowl” was a largely forgettable and poorly done mess. “Onward” was a fantastic film that definitely must’ve have been a nice viewing in a theater. This all leads to the question of which side does “The One and Only Ivan” fall into.
Based on the book of the same name by K.A. Applegate and inspired by a true story, the film follows a silverback gorilla named Ivan, voiced by Sam Rockwell. Ivan is part of a mall circus with a group of other animals run by Mack, played by Bryan Cranston. The group lives a fairly decent life but everyone is thrown for a loop when young elephant Ruby, voiced by Brooklyn Prince, is added and replaces Ivan as the headliner. Ivan is at first dismissive of Ruby for taking her spot. However, things change when Ruby’s adoptive circus mother elephant Stella, voiced by Angelina Jolie, dies and makes Ivan promise to find a way to free Ruby to where she belongs. This gives Ivan a mission to find a way to free his friends even if that means turning his back on Mack, who has raised him since he was taken from the wild.
“The One and Only Ivan” does many things well. First off, the visuals are very nice. It is very obvious that the creatures in the film are fake but they are stylized in a way that makes them feel real enough to be engaged with. Along with this, the main performances are done well especially when it comes to Rockwell, Prince and Cranston. Each of their performances really make their characters feel real whether they are CGI animals or a circus owner. Another big plus of the film is the relatively short runtime. At an hour and 35 minutes, it doesn’t waste any of its time and gets right to the points it wants to make.
However, this is also part of the film’s biggest flaws. Outside of Ivan trying to free Ruby, there is nothing else really there. There is some build-up to this with the viewer seeing Ivan prior to Ruby’s arrival. But, anything in between that is just used as a way to reach the end and nothing more. The ending itself even happens very fast to where it almost doesn’t even feel natural.
Another huge problem with the film is with the other animals. For the most part, they are very pointless. Angelina Jolie’s character of Stella is mostly there to kick off Ivan’s want to free Ruby. Bob, voiced by Danny DeVito, is a stray dog, who is friends with Ivan and is only really used to give Ivan someone to talk to after Stella dies. Alongside them is also a baseball-playing chicken, voiced by Chaka Khan, a spoiled poodle, voiced by Helen Mirren, and a rabbit who rides in a fire truck, voiced by Ron Funches. These characters don’t really have any relevance to the plot are mostly used just for some gags.
Now, a huge aspect of the film in the latter half is when it is discovered that Ivan likes to draw. This is something he is introduced to by Julia, played by Arianna Greenblatt. Julia is the daughter of George, played by Ramon Rodriguez, who works at the circus as a janitor. Though these characters do play a role in the end of the movie, there isn’t much else to them. There is an off-hand mentions once or twice to George’s wife, who has an unnamed disease, but there is no other development to their character.
Despite me saying all this, the movie is not that bad. One aspect I really enjoyed was Ivan and Ruby’s relationship. As stated in the plot summary, Ivan doesn’t care for Ruby at first because she replaces him as the headliner of the circus. Ruby, on the other hand, loves to talk to Ivan no matter how much he dismisses her. Upon Stella’s death, this changes as it becomes a mutually beneficial relationship. Ivan gets to free Ruby while Ruby brings out the memories of Ivan’s childhood that he thought he had forgotten.
“The One and Only Ivan” is definitely a film that was better suited to appearing on a streaming service as opposed to a movie theater. Though there are problems with the uselessness of its’ supporting characters, the film provides a heartwarming tale with great performances from the leads.