As we all wait in anticipation for the live-action adaptation of Mulan to hit Disney Plus’ “Premier Access” shelf, the star-studded animal caper The One and Only Ivan is set to tide us over with its upcoming digital release. Originally set for a theatrical distribution on August 14, the film (which is based on Katherine Applegate’s bestselling children’s book), is one of the latest in a string of movies hit by the global pandemic. Following the negative reactions to Artemis Fowl from both critics and fans alike, can the house of mouse redeem itself with this astounding tale of an extraordinary creature?
Directed by Thea Sharrock, The One and Only Ivan centres on the titular 400-pound silverback gorilla (voiced by Sam Rockwell) who’s the headlining star at a circus owned by Mack (Bryan Cranston), located in the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. Ivan happily shares the stage with fellow animals Stella the elephant (voiced by Angelina Jolie), Snickers the poodle (Helen Mirren) and Murphy the fire truck riding rabbit (voiced by Ron Funches), but the sudden arrival of baby elephant Ruby (voiced by Brooklynn Prince) affects the gorilla deeply, leading him to dream of a life beyond the bars.
I feel like it’s only appropriate to warn parents of small children that this isn’t a light film. Much like the mistreatment of elephants depicted in Dumbo, The One and Only Ivan shines a light on the heartbreaking plight of captive animals, along with a timely anti-poaching message. Yes it’s another Disney tearjerker – if you’re a child of the 90s like me, you’ll remember the plight of sitting through Bambi, The Lion King and Fox and the Hound for the first time! So yes, there are a couple of distressing scenes which may be a bit too much for younger audiences, but there’s also a lot of heart to the tale, particularly in the central relationships. There’s also a good amount of slapstick humour, including a fart joke or two included!
The star-studded voice cast wonderfully bringing to life the eclectic collection of animals. The central friendship of Rockwell’s Ivan and DeVito’s Bob is a genuine treat, with the Hercules voice star once again stealing scenes here as the cheeky stray. Ron Funches is always brilliantly animated in each of his projects, with the fire truck riding rabbit another highlight, along with adorable baby elephant Ruby. It’s great to see Bryan Cranston back on the big screen too, channeling the physical humour of his Malcolm in the Middle days as circus master Mack, although Sharrock only really scrapes the surface of his complicated relationship with Ivan.
Bringing to life the hybrid of live-action and CGI is the amazing visual effects studio MPC. The team were behind the incredible effects in recent “live-action” adaptations of Dumbo and The Lion King and they’ve once again replicated the magic. The range of emotions displayed in the animals, particularly Ivan and the two elephants, is just so detailed. Considering the film is based on a real-life tale, I can understand why there was a lack of your ‘typical’ Disney songs, but unfortunately the score didn’t stand out enough in absence of a soundtrack.
The One and Only Ivan features an important and timely message, however it’s lacking in that heartwarming Disney magic. The slapstick humour is definitely aimed at a younger audience, but there’s a large disconnect between the comedy and heartbreaking moments, subsequently leading me to ask; who is this really aimed at?
The One and Only Ivan is released on Disney+ on Friday, August 21.