“The One and Only Ivan” is a story that I never grew up with or even read in my elementary school years. I had heard stories of this book making you cry, laugh and everything in between, but from this footage, I couldn’t see the appeal. What makes me so happy about “The One and Only Ivan” is just how charming and uplifting it actually is in its 94-minute runtime. The story follows a gorilla named Ivan (Sam Rockwell) who tries to find out about his past with a baby elephant (Brooklyn Prince) while trying to escape captivity. The surprising element about a movie like this is the simultaneous balance of real vs animated drama. 

In the vein of live-action Disney adaptations, I am incredibly picky because those stories overextend themselves. While some work like the Jungle Book, others like Dumbo, the Maleficent films, The Lion King, etc., suffer from extending the story past the point of emotion. Those over-extended reimaginings suffer from having incredibly dull human characters but that’s not the case here. Having an actor like Bryan Cranston who plays the human who adopts Ivan and eventually starts a circus with him, creates a real drama. When big decisions are made later in the film in terms of Ivan’s life, the connection he forms with Cranston feels like those of anyone who has rescued an animal. That is truly great drama, but it definitely falters in the vein of supporting characters who work with Cranston’s “Mack," (Ramon Rodriguez and Arian Greenblatt) who have plot lines that go nowhere.

Voice casting is one of the most challenging elements in reviewing animated films since you can’t judge a performance. With actors like Helen Mirren, Angelina Jolie and Danny Devito, it’s hard to gauge how they exactly did. A performance that really did stand out to me was Sam Rockwell’s as the animated gorilla Ivan. In his longing for change (much like Cranston’s performance), there is drama on display that feels honest. It’s an incredibly nice change of pace for an animated performance instead of feeling like the actors cashed in. In the case of all of these performances, each one feels like these actors care about the material. 

I do want to make something clear, if you consider yourself “too old” for a Disney film, this one won’t win you over. Unlike a lot of the live-action adaptations (I know this is based on a book) before it, this one works because it cuts to the chase. It’s not given extra unnecessary filler and it cuts to the chase of the story which makes the emotion hit harder. The change of pace is enjoyable and incredibly pleasant consisting of its 94-minute runtime. Sometimes, it’s nice to have a film that delivers a message without a lot of extra story padding. The film premieres this Friday on Disney+ and can be a great watch for the family. I want to thank the kind folks over at Disney for sending me this early screener because it’s nice to see something that will make you smile!

Rating: 3.5/5

 Watch the trailer here.

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