by Justin Moore
Growing up near Tacoma, WA, I always heard about Ivan the gorilla and his time at the B & I Shopping Center. I never had the chance to visit Ivan when he left the shopping center in 1994 to go to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle before going to a zoo in Atlanta. I’ve been to the B & I several times and every time I am there, I feel terrible that Ivan spent 27 years there without going outside. His story inspired the book The One and Only Ivan written by Katherine Applegate in 2012. The novel spawned a spinoff and the newest film, The One and Only Ivan on Disney+.
Ivan lives at the Big Top mall where he performs for mall-goers alongside various animals. He has lived there for quite some time with his best friend, Bob, who is a dog. Ivan was taken in by Mack (Bryan Cranston) after he got separated from his family in the wild. When a baby elephant enters the Big Top mall and is mistreated, Ivan plans to have all the animals, including himself, escape captivity.
The film has an impressive voice cast for the animals at the mall. Voice actors like Sam Rockwell, Angelina Jolie, Danny DeVito, Chaka Khan, and Helen Mirren give soft spoken performances that capture their feelings of being held in captivity and having to perform every day. Sam Rockwell is perfect as Ivan. You can feel his desire to live in the wild after he starts to piece together his past with his family. Danny DeVito also gives a great voice performance. I enjoy hearing DeVito’s voice, even if I am reminded every time of his character on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. He gave a more lighthearted performance and provided the comic relief in the film. The film easily could have turned Bryan Cranston’s character, Mack, into a villain. He is a likable character despite wearing out the animals and pushing them to their limits. He enjoys his job and loves being around the animals, but often looses his temper when it comes to the animals performing. There are some endearing moments between Ivan and Mack, which highlights the relationship between the two.
Going into the film, I expected some emotional moments since I was aware of the story and how Ivan was treated. With a film of this subject matter, it was incredibly short. At only an hour and thirty minutes, many of Ivan’s decisions moved quickly. With the film’s quick pace, it undermines the emotion weight of the film and the impact of Ivan’s story. If the film ran for about 20 more minutes, it wouldn’t have felt rushed and I probably would have cried at the end. There is a point in the film where Ivan tries to escape the Big Top mall with the other animals after he sees Mack training the new elephant, seeing she is clearly tired. His plan ultimately doesn’t work out and from there on, everything Ivan does with the other animals feels underdeveloped. It was almost like the director wanted to quickly get to the end of the film and be done with it.
All the animals in the film look fantastic. From the feathers on the chicken to the trunks on the elephants, everything was detailed which helped the realistic tone of the film. The paintings that Ivan creates towards the end of the film, to send a message about where he wants to be, offers bright moments in what is considered to be a dark place for the animals. People start to notice Ivan’s paintings and catch on to his cry for help, which leads to the most satisfying moment in the film.
When it came to the emotional moments and pacing of the film, I was disappointed. I expected a lot more when it came to Ivan’s story. Besides that, I thought the film was overall pleasing with the cast giving realistic performances to capture how animals may feel in captivity. I wonder if Disney has any plans to make a film based on the spinoff book, The One and Only Bob, which is from the point of view of the dog. A different approach on the story may offer a more dramatic touch to the movie. Plus, it would be nice to hear Danny DeVito again voicing a dog.