“The One and Only Ivan” is set largely at an off-highway shopping center called the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. The unassuming storefront belies the range of talent that resides inside. No, not the talent of the animals that perform at the circus that is, oddly, housed within the mall, but rather the talent of the actors who lend those animals their voices.
Step right up to see Angelina Jolie as a sagacious elephant, Helen Mirren as a well-coiffed poodle or Chaka Khan as a baseball-playing chicken. A glance at the cast list might make you wonder which animal got the soaring singing voice of Phillipa Soo, from “Hamilton.” But she plays a peripheral character — a macaw that does not sing. Anyone who could fake a “Polly wanna a cracker” imitation might have sufficed.
A blend of live action, computer animation and well-integrated motion capture effects (though the occasional boredom of the plot may inspire you to look for the seams), “The One and Only Ivan,” streaming on Disney+ and directed by Thea Sharrock, brings a fair amount of heart to a generic story line. It’s adapted from a Newbery-winning children’s book that itself was inspired by the story of a real mall gorilla named Ivan.
The film’s Ivan (voiced by Sam Rockwell) acts like a fierce silverback in circus performances, but offstage he is a gentle soul with a knack for painting. The ringmaster, Mack (Bryan Cranston, in corporeal form), will eventually put Ivan’s eye to work, dubbing him the “primate Picasso” and “the artistic ape from exit 8.”
But mostly “The One and Only Ivan” consists of fairly standard Disney lessons, about the hardships of losing parents (real and surrogate) and how difficult it is to embrace change. Ruby (Brooklynn Prince, from “The Florida Project”) is a baby elephant whose adorability threatens to the steal the spotlight from Ivan, but the Jolie elephant, Stella, brings out the simian’s parenting temperament. When the chips are down — when Mack wants to get rid of a rascally stray pooch (Danny DeVito) or when the firetruck-driving rabbit (Ron Funches) is nearly flattened in traffic — Ivan proves capable of protecting his troupe of performers, despite not having protected a troop of gorillas the wild. (A flashback provides the obligatory “Bambi” death scene.)
That’s some gorilla — the one and only of his kind, you might say. But the movie itself doesn’t reach that level of distinction.
The One and Only Ivan
Rated PG for “mild thematic elements.” Beware of themes, kids. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. Watch on Disney+.
Source: NY Times – Review