The Oscar Project Reviews
This much-hyped release on Disney+ tells the story of a beloved silver back gorilla who spends his days as part of a small circus show in a roadside shopping mall, but yearns to be free and experience the outside world.
Based on the children's book of the same name by Katherine Applegate, the film features the voice talent of Sam Rockwell as the titular gorilla, Angelina Jolie as Stella, the matriarchal elephant in the circus, Danny DeVito as the tag-along mutt Bob, Helen Mirren as the trick poodle Snickers, and Hamilton's Phillipa Soo as the circus parrot Thelma. The live action cast consists mainly of Ryan Cranston playing the ringmaster Mack with young Ariana Greenblatt (Avengers: Infinity War) as the lovable Julia who hangs around the circus.
While the film is billed as telling the story of the gorilla who discovers his love for creating art, there is sadly not much screen time of a painting gorilla. The plot feels disjointed throughout, almost feeling like it was originally intended as a 23 minute episodic series on the Disney streaming service than as a full length feature film. People familiar with Disney's formula will see the small "twists" in the film coming a mile away. Because these plot swings are so transparent, they lose all emotional impact they might otherwise have.
<Spoilers ahead> The centerpiece of the film has the troop of animals making a daring escape from the mall in the middle of the night, working together to trick the nigh security guard into Ivan's cage before locking him inside and smashing through the front doors of the mall. They run across the road with an obligatory joke about why Henrietta (the chicken voiced by Chaka Khan) should cross at all and escape to the woods. Unfortunately, they don't make it far before they realize the woods only go for a few yards before opening to a cliff overlooking the nearby city.
The film ends with a few stills and archival footage of the real life Ivan upon which the story was based. I feel like the book format may be better for telling this story than on the screen. If it was to be transcribed to film, it would have been better as a short documentary series than as a feature film.
Despite my feelings on the film, kids will surely love it. The animals are cute and there are enough laughs to keep their attention for the 95 minute running time. For adults, it may seem like a difficult slog through a story we've seen many times before. The CGI animals are passable, but a bit clunky whenever they interact with the human characters. Other than filler for family time, I cannot recommend this film.
The One and Only Ivan is streaming now on Disney+.
4 out of 10