‘The One And Only Ivan’ Movie Review: Angelina Jolie’s Animal House

It’s easy to see why Angelina Jolie would be drawn to bring The One and Only Ivan to the screen. She produced the Disney+ adaptation of Katherine Applegate’s book which in turn was inspired by a true story.

One and Only Ivan painting
Ivan | Disney+

The story has themes of adoptive families, of which Jolie is outspoken, since they’re all different species of animals who come together. It has themes of man interfering with nature, but rectifying their mistakes. These themes all come in a sweet family movie that can wow kids and their parents with special effects. The One and Only Ivan premieres Aug. 21 on Disney+.

Meet Angelina Jolie’s animal gang in ‘The One and Only Ivan’

Ivan (voice of Sam Rockwell) is a gorilla performing in Mack (Bryan Cranston)’s circus show in a mall. The circus includes chicken Henrietta (Chaka Khan), Murphy the rabbit (Ron Funches), Stella the elephant (Jolie), Snickers the poodle (Helen Mirren), Frankie the seal (Mike White) and Bob (Danny DeVito), the stray dog who visits. 

One and Only Ivan: George and Julia
Ramon Rodriguez and Ariana Greenblatt | Disney+

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Mack isn’t the only human in Ivan’s life. George (Ramon Rodriguez) is a caretaker who brings is daughter, Julia (Ariana Greenblatt) to work. When attendance dwindles, Mack brings baby elephant Ruby (Brooklynn Prince) to attract new audiences. But, when Julia realizes Ivan can draw, he becomes the star attraction again. 

‘The One and Only Ivan’ has convincing animals

You would think after so many Andy Serkis movies, Hollywood could always conjure up realistic animals. Movies like Dolittle show it’s not always a given, so The One and Only Ivan is definitely one of the good ones. 

Cranston is acting like he’s training live animals. In real life, he would actually only have an actor in a green suit or a blue stump to work with. Ben Bishop performed Ivan. The animals move like real animals. They used visual effects to control the performances more easily than training live animals, and perhaps for the animals’ safety too, but they don’t go overboard. A flashback to baby Ivan is just adorable. 

Angelina Jolie as Stella
Stella | Disney+

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The animals talk to each other but not to humans. So you have the celebrity voices having conversations amongst the animals, but not breaking the reality that Mack and his employees can only communicate visually with them. 

An emotional performance

The One and Only Ivan isn’t as grand a story as perhaps other animal movies. It all takes place in a mall, but that mall circus is the world to these animals. And that’s part of the point. It shouldn’t be. It may be impossible to let them loose in the wild, but humans can do better. The animals do venture out at one point but the film stays fairly contained.   

One and Only Ivan outside
The One and Only Ivan | Disney+

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You’ll get emotionally attached to these characters. The subtle changes their lives take provoke big feelings. Perhaps that’s more relatable than big quests. In real life, small changes affect everything. 

One potential theme doesn’t quite thread all the way through. Early on, Ivan laments that he has to perform as an angry chest thumping gorilla for the show. He doesn’t have anything to roar about in his comfortable life. That doesn’t quite go anywhere, and it’s provocative enough that it would be worth exploring Ivan finding a reason to roar or convincing others he doesn’t have to. Perhaps his art was intended to replace the roar.

The One and Only Ivan does land its other theme, that not all humans are bad. Ivan and Mack have a roller coaster of a relationship, but ultimately motivated by love just like any human family conflict. The film is captivating enough, and then it shows some art and footage of the real Ivan which only makes the viewer more fascinated to learn more about the true story.