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The One and Only Ivan Movie Review - Soft-hearted Animal Rights Message

Should wild animals stay in the wild?

Reviewed by on Aug 24, 2020
Rating: 4 Star Rating

Kidzworld watched The One and Only Ivan, the story of a gorilla who spent years performing at a shopping mall to finally be released into a safe, wild outdoor habitat. Will it make you cry or smile?

In The One and Only Ivan, based loosely on a true story, a big silverback gorilla (voice of Sam Rockwell) stars in a Big Top Mall circus that's losing its audience. Ivan can't talk with Mack (Bryan Cranston), the circus ringmaster who raised him since he was little, but speaks English with the rest of the animals; Stella the elephant (Angelina Jolie), Bob the dog (Danny DeVito), a stray dog who's not part of the act, Snickers (Helen Mirren), a posh poodle who lives in Mack's office, Henrietta (Chaka Khan) the baseball-playing chicken, Frankie the unsure seal (Mike White) and Murphy (Ron Funches), a rabbit who rides around in a toy fire truck.

The One and Only Ivan Trailer



Ivan (Sam Rockwell) the gorilla is used to performingIvan the gorilla is used to performing

Caretaker George (Ramon Rodriguez) and tween daughter Julia (Ariana Greenblatt) are kindly to the critters and Julia, an artist, gives Ivan some crayons. He secretly starts drawing rather than keeping up his fierce “act”. The addition of baby elephant Ruby (Brooklynn Prince) stirs everything up. Can these animals ever live free?

George and daughter Julia help with the showGeorge and daughter Julia help with the show

Meet the Circus

Ivan, a huge silverback gorilla, introduces us to his fellow performers and the small circus they inhabit inside a mall. He’s been there twenty years since Mack, the owner/ringmaster, got and raised him almost like a human baby….until he got too big. Now he is the headliner beating his chest and growling to thrill ever-shrinking audiences. Julia, a young artist, visits the animals while her dad George feeds, cleans etc. The animals can talk to each other but not to humans. Mack hopes to find a new act to boost attendance. Julia sees Ivan drawing and gives him her old crayons when Mack gives her new ones.

Mack encourages Ivan to keep being fierceMack encourages Ivan to keep being fierce

Friends are Supportive

Food vendors are leaving the old mall and the stray dog who has befriended especially Ivan sneaks into Mack’s office to eat Snickers’ kibble. She doesn’t mind. She informs the animals that a new animal will be joining their group. They are all excited.

Snickers (Helen Mirren) lets mutt Bob eat her kibbleSnickers lets mutt Bob eat her kibble

The newcomer is a tiny baby elephant that Mack names Ruby. Stella has to lead her out of a transport van with a gentle trunk. Ruby has never performed and was bought cheaply from an out-of-business circus. As Mack realizes audiences love baby animals, Ivan feels a bit replaced as “star”. Ruby’s name is added to the big billboard outside. She, with Stella’s guardianship, is a hit. More people come to the shows and that’s good….right?

Stella and Ruby (Brooklynn Prince) are a big hit!Stella and Ruby are a big hit!

Stella’s Foot

George notices that Stella’s foot is sore. She isn’t standing on it. Maybe it is infected. A vet is called in. It gets worse. Stella tells her animal friends that not all humans are bad. A group of them once saved her from a deep mud hole. Ruby is so sweet that even Ivan loves her. Ivan talks her into going out to see the audience alone for the first time. She is scared. Later Ivan draws a carrot for her. He doesn’t want anyone to know he draws. It’s not ferocious. Ruby loves stories so Ivan tells her his history of being raised since a baby by Mack. He was too messy so Mack’s wife left. Stella asks Ivan to take care of Ruby and to make sure that someday, she can be free in the wild. Then the elderly elephant passes away. Everyone, human and animal, mourns.

Elderly Stella (Angelina Jolie) starts feeling poorlyElderly Stella starts feeling poorly

Ivan the Ape Artist

Knowing that the whole show really depends now on Ruby, Mack starts training her to do what Stella did. Ruby gets really tired trying to learn but Mack doesn’t seem to notice. He doesn’t stop until she spits at him through her trunk and blows off his toupee! Ivan realizes if he can get the key to the cages from Julia, they can all escape to the “forest” across the highway. He has to keep his promise to Stella and now everyone wants to be free! Finally Mack sees that Ivan draws quite well. He shows Ivan’s drawings to the audience. They love it but, knowing now Ruby won’t be free, Ivan refuses to draw for the crowd.

Ivan and Bob are buddiesIvan and Bob are buddies

The Great Escape

While a custodian is chasing the dog, now named Bob, everyone escapes, crosses the highway as a group and is free in the “forest” but Ivan soon realizes this is not the “wild”. It’s a city park and they are now in danger.

Friendly mutt Bob the dog (Danny DeVito)Friendly mutt Bob the dog

Mack finds them and talks them into returning to the mall. They aren’t safe here. Back in their cages, Ruby demands a story about the wild. Ivan tells the sad tale of his childhood. He did live in the wild with his family and he was always “drawing” using mud. One day bad humans came and killed his dad who was protecting him. He never saw any of his family again. Ruby reminds Ivan that, as Stella said, not all humans are bad.

The animals make their escapeThe animals make their escape

The Wild?

Julia gives Ivan a set of fingerpaints. He paints an amazing picture of a forested land with a lake in the middle from his memory. The audience and Mack are super impressed. So is a press member who sees this. Julia tells her that the painting means Ivan and the animals need to be set free. Ivan wants to live in the wild. He has been here most of his life. Will Mack realize that his beloved Ivan is ready for the wild again? Can Ivan keep his promise to Stella and make sure Ruby is also set free to a safe wild environment? Will the other animals finally live a free life?

Ivan uses fingerpaints to paint the wildIvan uses fingerpaints to paint the wild

Wrapping Up

The One and Only Ivan is a film adaptation of a book about a real gorilla who spent most of his life in a less kind environment as a side-show attraction at a mall before being released to a zoo in a large enclosure. This film adds a lot to the story and we will tell you now that it has a happy ending. There are some tears along the way however.

Ringmaster Mack (Bryan Cranston)Ringmaster Mack

There have been many films with talking animals. This one has a lot of heart and the CGI animals (a few real ones were used in some scenes) look quite realistic. The real plus is the wonderful cast of voice actors who bring the critters to life with great gusto. I love all of the very different, expressive voices.

Murphy the rabbit (Ron Funches) and Henrietta discuss Ruby's arrivalMurphy the rabbit and Henrietta discuss Ruby's arrival

The message that wild animals should be in the wild and not exploited for human entertainment is a good one although some animals in humane captivity in order to save their almost extinct species might be an exception. There have been many movies with the same message over the years. This one does tend to attract the animal lover in most of us.

Julia (Ariana Greenblatt) loves Ivan and the animalsJulia loves Ivan and the animals

In this case the “good guy” is the lead gorilla Ivan instead of a human. Although Mack loves and is kind to the animals most of the time, he does exploit them to earn his living so he isn’t a solid “hero type”. Also, by the end, the fates of some of the animals aren’t really as covered as they should be although we do see what happens to Ivan and little Ruby (don’t worry. It’s good).

Stella takes care of baby RubyStella takes care of baby Ruby

I was more enthralled by little elephant Ruby than I was with Disney’s last “Dumbo”. This is a family film that might pull at heartstrings both young and old. Since it looks great and has fabulous voice actors, we can award four stars. Well worth a watch.

The One and Only Ivan Movie Rating: 4

The One and Only Ivan Movie Poster

See The One and Only Ivan on Disney+ now.

What Do You Think?

Should any wild animals be in captivity? Should humans exploit wild animals just for human entertainment? Do you wish your pet could talk to you? Talk all about critters and our love for them here or on your Kidzworld profile page.