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Movie Review: ‘The One and Only Ivan’ is a sweet film with an important message

by Brittani Tuttle

Disney’s “The One and Only Ivan” tells the story of a silverback gorilla who loves the life he lives at a circus-themed mall attraction, but finds his world turned upside-down with major changes that expertly bring about important questions about how humans treat animals.

the one and only ivan

When we join Ivan (voiced by Sam Rockwell), we find him at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, where he performs for kids alongside an aging elephant named Stella (voiced by Angelina Jolie), and is best friends with a stray dog named Bob (voiced by Danny DeVito). Ivan and his fellow performers are owned by Mack (Bryan Cranston), the owner of Big Top Mall.

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When his shows are done each day, a child named Julia (Ariana Greenblatt) draws colorful pictures for Ivan, while her dad, George (Ramon Rodriguez), works for Mack. At night, Bob sneaks into Ivan’s enclosure for cozy naps on his belly while listening to stories from Stella about her life before the mall.

the one and only ivan

To help keep the Big Top profitable and running, Mack brings a new star to the show, an adorable elephant calf named Ruby (voiced by Brooklynn Prince), who immediately becomes close with Stella.

Shortly after, tragedy strikes and Ivan is shouldered with a very loaded promise: to take care of Ruby, and find her somewhere better to live, like a zoo – “where humans make amends.”

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In a way, this film manages to tackle big ideas in approachable ways for kids without coming off too bleak, like the rights of animals to be “free,” proper treatment of animals in performing roles, and how to speak up when you know something isn’t right.

I thought the film was sweet, and very much in-line with your typical animal-led Disney film. It’s perfect for kids and parents looking for something they can watch together, and its home on Disney+ will serve that purpose perfectly.

The full cast got together on Zoom for a webinar about the film.

“The One and Only Ivan” will be available to stream exclusively on Disney+ starting Friday, Aug. 21. It was originally scheduled for a theatrical release, but was transitioned to a streaming debut back in June as a result of COVID-19. You can check out the trailer for the film below:


In the Parks

You can see a troop of western lowland gorillas on the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park, where they live in habitats that are based on extensive research into their natural history.

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