3 out of 5 stars
A gorilla that could paint art. That is an interesting concept to consider and in the case of Ivan, it was true. Based on the true-to-life story of the silverback western lowland gorilla who was raised in captivity in a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington. He gained even more notoriety when children’s novelist K. A. Applegate wrote the great ape’s story into her fantasy adventure of his eventual move to the Zoo Atlanta. The gorilla’s biography is at the heart of the latest release on Disney+.
Even though there are true key elements of this tale, Applegate and Disney manage to add a bit of movie magic into this animal adventure. Ivan (voiced by Sam Rockwell) was a baby when he was captured in the Congo in the early 60s. In the film, he is raised by the owner of the Big Top Mall, Mack (Brian Cranston). Initially, the circus entrepreneur raises the beast in his home until Ivan grows beyond the limitations of the man’s home and is moved into an enclosure in the shopping centre. A habitat that he would live in for 27 years as the headline entertainment for the indoor mall and circus.
As the businesses begin to lose foot traffic and money, Mack decides to try different things to bring back the crowds. To complement Ivan and other acts like a caring and elderly African elephant named Stella (Angelina Jolie), a fast-talking chicken named Henrietta (Chaka Khan), and a neurotic sea lion named Frankie (Mike White), the eccentric owner decides to bring in a baby elephant named Ruby (Brooklynn Prince). This special little package manages to grow the attendance numbers, but not enough to make ends meet. All seems pretty desperate for this unique animal enclosure until Ivan takes up the challenge of a little girl to begin drawing. This special talent does grab the attention of the local media and eventually the rest of the world.
Only Disney could get away with making a true story about a gorilla into a film about talking animals and have it work. The One and Only Ivan was originally meant for a cinematic release, but as with many films in 2020, it went straight to streaming. With an all-star vocal cast on board, it has all of the markers of an animal adventure from a by-gone era that includes better than average visual effects. Even though it does manage to minimise the protests for Ivan’s release, the overall experience is one that is accessible to all ages.
There are elements of the gorilla’s actual story included in the film, but the majority of it happens in the imaginative world of the animal enclosure. Including an intuitive ape, his pet dog, Bob (Danny Devito), a caring elephant and the underlying need to help Ruby, the newest member of the circus family, to finally live in the outdoors. This creative adventure for families does rely on a certain amount of imagination and suspension of disbelief. While still allowing for a life lesson for parents to discuss with their children, specifically the value of friendship and the fair treatment of animals. This gorilla tale is a safe and entertaining option for families to enjoy a night together.
Reel Dialogue: Should we care for animals?
At the heart of The One and Only Ivan is the idea of conservation. Even though there is a subplot that involves the care of the baby elephant, Ruby, the real story is Ivan’s extended containment.
In the real world, the belief in animal conservation can take on different levels of consideration. Some are exceptionally good and should be supported to save animals from extinction. Unfortunately, some organisations have taken it to such an extreme that it has become unappealing and heavy-handed. So, what does the Bible have to say about this topic?
One of the first commands from God to mankind was to take care of his created beasts. The challenge is to not allow these beasts to take precedence over the care of humanity or to get in the way of our service of God. Like most things, they are to have a place in God's world, but the created should never diminish the focus on the Creator.
Should we care about the animal kingdom? (Genesis 1:26-28, Proverbs 27:23, Colossians 1:16, Matthew 6:26)