3.5 out of 5 stars

The One and Only Ivan is the heartwarming tale of a gorilla, a baby elephant, and the sacrifices that can only be made by true friends. Based on Katherine Applegate’s award-winning 2012 children’s book, Disney’s latest family-friendly feature may not be an instant classic, but it has plenty of feels to distract us from present-day gloom.

The story is based on the true tale of a silverback gorilla who grew up in captivity and became the main attraction of a strip mall circus in the Pacific Northwest. But when the ageing ape began demonstrating an extraordinary talent (no spoilers), animal rights advocates marched to see Ivan moved to a better habitat.

The separation of fact and fiction is a blurred line in The One and Only Ivan, despite obviously now involving talking animals, but that’s of little concern. Embellishments to the story are welcome for the sake of following a good narrative.

Those who’ve read Applegate’s book might be somewhat put off by a few liberties taken with Thea Sharrock’s film adaptation, however. Most notably with the portrayal of Mack (Bryan Cranston), as his character’s morality is murkier in the book, as he makes many questionable actions and decisions. In the film, Mack’s bad decision-making is chalked up as innocent or ignorant mistakes, rather than acts of real malice. Disney clearly didn’t want to have Mack portrayed as too much of a villain.

Consequently, The One and Only Ivan has no villainous figure, only conflicts revolving around whether our furry friends can overcome a variety of obstacles—from saving a dying circus to questioning if it’s even worth saving.

As with any VFX-heavy feature, the voice talent is critical to bringing the story to life. The One and Only Ivan has plenty of famous folk lending their vocal talents, with Sam Rockwell headlining as the eponymous ape, Danny DeVito playing his loveable doggy friend Bob, and Angelina Jolie as a baby elephant called Stella who’s thrust into the limelight. But while Devito’s scruffy pooch is a real show-stealer, Jolie’s character lacks any real dramatic curve, and Rockwell is merely okay as Ivan.

In the end, I couldn’t help connecting my level of enjoyment to how the film’s being seen. As yet another theatrical casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was satisfied to enjoy The One and Only Ivan in the company of my wife and two young children in the comfort of our home. It suited being on Disney+, as I would have regretted the added expense of a trip to the cinema for something of this quality. So that alone makes The One and Only Ivan one of the best viewing choices a family could make the year.

USA | 2020 | 95 MINUTES | 2.35:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

director: Thea Sharrock.
writer: Mike White (based on the novel by K.A Applegate).
starring: Sam Rockwell (voice), Angelina Jolie (voice), Danny DeVito (voice), Helen Mirren (voice), Ramón Rodríguez, Ariana Greenblatt, Phillipa Soo, Owain Arthur, Kevin Mathurin & Bryan Cranston.