Collin's been a movie critic since 2009. In real life he works in marketing and is also a novelist ("Good Riddance" published in Oct 2015).
Based on the 2013 Newberry Medal-winning children’s book by Katherine Applegate, The One and Only Ivan is the latest original offering from Disney+, and though it may prove a gentle diversion for kids (and parents) as the summer winds down, it has all the staying power of an August breeze.
In and of itself, it works perfectly fine for what it sets out to be—a tearjerky, pro-animal, ninety minutes of decent CGI work set to a sweeping score (with the occasional fart joke thrown to appease the eight-year-olds in the audience). But beyond that, it simply moseys along, telling its largely-faithful story in the most pedestrian way it can.
Voiced by Sam Rockwell, Ivan, the silverback gorilla at the heart of it all, reflects on 20 years in captivity at a makeshift zoo in a local strip mall. His handler, ringmaster Mack (Bryan Cranston), is bemoaning the fact that the crowds have thinned in recent years, though he thinks he’s found the next big thing in the form of a baby elephant named Ruby (Brooklyn Prince). Meanwhile, young Julia (Ariana Greenblatt), the daughter of the circus’ janitor, gives Ivan a couple of her old crayons, and it turns out the big fella has a bit of an artistic flair. Plus, the animals are all starting to get a sense of wanderlust, adult elephant Stella (Angelina Jolie) is getting too old to perform, and, of course, we can’t avoid the requisite backstories of both Mack’s failed marriage and Ivan’s prior life in the wild.
Also along for the ride are a stray mutt named Bob (Danny DeVito), Mack’s poodle Snickers (Helen Mirren), and Henrietta (Chaka Khan), a frantic chicken. Together, they’re a motley menagerie that does inject The One and Only Ivan with some color and even a splash of effective humor (once you get past the obligatory “why did the chicken cross the road?” joke...which, yes, we get). And the voice talent (Rockwell, especially) liven things up.
Director Thea Sharrock (Me Before You), working from a script by The School of Rock’s Mike White, takes the better-than-average CGI work from the visual effects team and brings the animals to life in a way that will give the youngsters in the audience plenty to ooh and ahh at. The biggest issue here, though (as with many novel adaptations), is the over-crowding that’s inherent in cramming a 300-page book into an hour-and-a-half-long film. White’s screenplay certainly retains many of the highlights, but there’s only so much time to let the finer points breathe, and the result is an odd mash-up of major subplots presented in such a way that it feels like everything is cobbled together with no real chance to get any kind of rhythm going.
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you may question whether any real animals were used in the production (they weren’t), but in the end, that’ll be pretty much everything you think about the film. The One and Only Ivan will make its way out of your life just as quietly as you let it in.