An obvious fit to the Disney formula, The One and Only Ivan is exactly what it says on the package. It’s supposed to be fun, energetic and thoughtful, yet it falters to sigh-worthy archetypes. It fits exactly what it’s supposed to do, be a charming-enough film to engage children and parents will happily leave them to it. In that sense, it’s a good pick for parents in need. However, as a piece of film it offers very little.
It’s obnoxiously silly, childish, passable and ridiculously predictable. The non-stop talking is nerve-wracking. The screenplay is naive, ticking off every single trope in the box. When it comes down to it, the film is just painfully dull and completely average, with a dose of occasional silver linings.
Ivan (Sam Rockwell) is a Gorilla who lives and performs in a mall. Along his journey, he begins to piece together his past with the assistance of Stella (Angelina Jolie), the elephant. As they become acquainted with a new animal in their mall, they begin to hatch a plan to escape to the outer world.
There is an attempt to make this a heart-warming tale with a message behind it and yet, it falls into its own sentimental trap in trying too hard to become one thing, when really it is another. It’s an admirable attempt that clearly meant a lot to those behind it, but perhaps this is where things got lost? Stuck in the real-life story of Ivan was probably where forgotten on how to make a resonating film.
CGI animals are a go-to nowadays, “What if we can make these cute animals talk? Oh, people would love this!” We’ve seen it work, notably by this very studio in their original Disney animated films. Also, in some live-action films, I personally took a shine to The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast – CGI talking animals can absolutely work. With a lesser budget, The One and Only Ivan wades into the uncanny valley as the visuals just aren’t up to standard. Words don’t feel as if they are coming from the animals, sadly, the imagination is lost as it most definitely just feels like Sam Rockwell softly speaking into a pristine microphone.
The film is shot in a most uninspired way and directed with nothing more than the knowing that animals would be digitally inserted after. Everything in the film is all too easy and formulaic. The One and Only Ivan is a passable film to entertain children under the age of five. Anything beyond that, it will hardly leave an impact. It’s a package, ordered with extra sighs.