The One and Only Ivan is one of a kind

Sept. 20, 2020, 10:52 a.m. | By Isabel Corvington | 3 years, 8 months ago

The Disney+ original full of heart tells the inspiring story of a real circus gorilla

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hinder the typical movie experience, families are looking for a new way to enjoy a premier from their own homes, and many production companies are finding new ways to make this possible. One of these films, released at home on Disney+ for audiences to access, is The One and Only Ivan.

The movie tells the inspiring story of a real circus gorilla (courtesy of Disney)


The film is based on the best selling novel by Katherine Applegate, and inspired by the true story of a gorilla that learned to paint. It follows Ivan (Sam Rockwell), a silverback gorilla with more to him than what meets the eye. As Ivan learns to paint and draw, he realizes he no longer enjoys performing at the dying circus where he lives in captivity, or living inside a cage instead of out in the wild. The other circus animals who perform alongside him are in agreement, and together they decide they want to escape. 

The circus features an older, wise elephant Stella (Angelina Jolie) who acts as a mother figure to the animals. She is joined by a young elephant Ruby (Brooklynn Prince) who Ivan decides deserves a better life than his where he has been trapped inside for nearly thirty years. Additionally, a stray dog voiced by Danny Devito adds a comedic flare to the film. The One and Only Ivan features a long list of impressive names including Hellen Mirren as a poodle, Chaka Khan as a chicken, and Hamilton’s Philipa Soo as a squawking parrot. 

The One and Only Ivan combines CGI animation along with live acting. Compared to full animation, where the film would feel less realistic, CGI allows for the animals to feel and look real alongside the live actors. Even though Rockwell is not able to portray emotion through his face due to the CGI, he brings lots of emotion to Ivan through his voice. Breakout star Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project) shows her ability to portray a wide range of emotion through the voice of Stella as well.

The film portrays the captivity of circus animals as not black and white, but more nuanced, something that is not often seen in movies surrounding animal captivity. The animals aren’t always upset about performing in the circus, and have a mostly positive outlook on their lives. Additionally, there is no clear villain in the film. Even the somewhat greedy circus’ ringleader Mack (Brian Cranston), who holds the animals captive and forces them to perform, isn’t portrayed as evil. Cranston brings this depth and complexity to his character throughout the film. Director Thea Sharrok shows that Mack does care about the animals, though he does not always make the best decisions when it comes to how he treats the animals. He forces young elephant Ruby to learn tricks, and doesn’t call the vet for an injured Stella even though he promises he will. 

The line “not all humans are bad” is repeated throughout the film, furthering this message. The animals resent their lives of captivity, but not their leader, who keeps them in their cages. The film shows how one can show empathy towards anyone, and kindness can be found in everyone. 

This strong message, in addition to the somewhat overplayed storylines that can be found in many Disney films, shows that this is not one of the many new releases geared towards an older audience. The film has a strong emotional pull and a few comedic moments to make viewers laugh throughout the film, but there is no real depth. Although the sometimes predictable storylines and lack of any twists or real surprises might not resonate with older audiences, The One and Only Ivan is a great movie to watch and enjoy alongside a younger sibling or as a family. 

The One and Only Ivan is rated PG and is available on Disney+.

Last updated: Sept. 20, 2020, 10:53 a.m.

Tags: Movie Review Disney Animation Disney+

Isabel Corvington. Hi, I'm Isabel and I'm a senior! In my free time I enjoy listening to music and hanging out with friends :) More »

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