The One and Only Ivan review: Disney+ drama finds hope in heavy subject
While the makers have attempted a toned-down approach to make it a children-friendly film, the tragedy in the lives of caged wild animals looms large throughout
The One and Only Ivan takes on the heavy subject of life in confinement for wild animals. The film is inspired by the real-life story of a gorilla named Ivan, who was used as an attraction in a shopping mall in America for 27 years. While director Thea Sharrock has attempted a toned-down approach to make it a children-friendly film, the tragedy in the lives of caged wild animals looms throughout.
Even when the plot gets predictable at times, the stunning combination of live-action and CGI makes us want to watch without missing a beat. Topping it all are the CGI developed expressions of Ivan (voiced by Sam Rockwell) that impressively convey the animal’s pain behind cages over the years.
Direction: Thea Sharrock
Cast & Voice: Bryan Cranston, Sam Rockwell, Angelina Jolie, Brooklynn Prince, Ariana Greenblatt
Steaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
The screenplay, based on KA Applegate’s classic children’s novel of the same name, is rather simple and could have certainly been more creative. Mostly due to this, even at only 90-minutes long, the film feels stretched at times. Despite a strong character arc, the character Mack (played by Bryan Cranston) seems to have not got enough attention from the writers, and because of this, Cranston's performance is unable to make a mark. The ensemble voice cast too doesn’t get much in the way of dialogues.
However, the dialogues in the film comically raise several serious arguments. One such thought-provoking exchange is between an abandoned dog Bob (voiced by Danny DeVito) who claims, "Humans are the worst. Cockroaches have bigger hearts," and a naive baby elephant Ruby who responds saying, "Not all humans are bad. Humans can surprise you." While Bob’s sad past makes him lose faith in humans, Ruby (voiced by Brooklynn Prince) still chooses to see the good. Meanwhile, Ivan's drawing habit, elephant Stella’s (voiced by Angelina Jolie) stories, and the message to strive to be ‘free’ are all light-hearted and symbolic of hope, in line with what the film tries to be.
The One and Only Ivan consciously steers clear of violence but the flashback behind Ivan’s doll, Stella’s sad fate, the overworked baby elephant, and the short bout of freedom that seems in vain, add to the underlying somber mood. The circus culture and the apathy towards animals particularly come to the forefront when Mack worries about ailing elephant Stella saying the circus needs her, instead of genuinely showing love.
The climax, soundtrack, and positive characterisation of animals, however, manage to balance the heaviness with charm and maintain a light tone. There are also themes of empathy, friendship and teamwork. A few facts about these animals such as their memory prowess and eating habits are also casually slipped in through dialogues for children.
All told, this is a film that tells an important message about the need for empathy towards animals by highlighting the plight of tamed wild animals and it is a story that the world needs to see.