Ivan (Sam Rockwell) and Bob the Dog (Danny Devito) in The One and Only Ivan

By Laurie Coker

Rating: B+

I love traveling with my grandchildren and together we enjoy listening to audiobooks. On one trip, my granddaughter and I, both huge animal lovers, listened to The One and Only Ivan, the story of a silverback ape raised in captivity. Disney+ brings the book, based on a true story, to streaming television. Thea Sharrock directs a stunning blend of live action and remarkable CGI with an excellent cast of real and voice actors.

Ivan (voiced by Sam Rockwell) lives in the Big Top Mall and Arcade where he performs daily for his owner, (Brian Cranston), long side Stella a matriarchal elephant (voiced by Angelina Jolie), Snickers the aristocratic poodle (voiced by Helen Mirren), a chatty chicken named Henrietta (voiced by Chaka Khan), and a former street dog and Ivan’s best friend, Bob (voiced by Danny DeVito). Ivan’s past is a bit of a blur to him – all he remembers is being raised by Mack – but Stella remembers freedom and when a baby elephant, Ruby, (voiced by Brooklyn Prince) comes to the show, Stella looks to Ivan to free them.

From the start, it is apparent that live and voice actors are having a blast. Director Thea Sharrock seems to have fun too, but then there are the loftier messages lurking in the story and this is where the playfulness collides with the serious. While much of the “humans are bad to animals” will stay over the heads of little ones, Sharrock and screenwriter Mike White are heavy-handed in the delivery. Thankfully, the computer crafted creatures inspire awe and make any faults minimal at best. Knowing they aren’t “real” doesn’t take away from the wonderment.

Devito’s Bob the dog steals most scenes with well-timed comic banter. Rockwell, too, provides dry humor and a completely likeable leading APE. Cranston demonstrates both the kindness and the greed in humans and their relationships to animals. Newcomer Ariana Greenblatt (as Julie) gives us the wide-eye, compassionate admiration of a child that shows in the innocence of her relationship with the animals.  

Disney+’s The One and Only Ivan gives credit to its source material by Katherine Applegate. That the animals talk does little to distract from the realism in their mannerisms and actions and children will love their adventure. Some adults might lose patience with the accusations that humans are bad, if for no other reason that ALL humans are not. The One and Only Ivan is a beautiful, silly, serious, fun, and awe-inspiring film and it earns a B+ in the grade book.

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