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The One and Only Ivan (Disney+ Original Film) Review: Disney Family Film That Doesn't Break the Mold

Poster for The One and Only Ivan
Sean Fang Wed, 19/08/2020 - 00:00


Summary: Those looking for a solid, if unspectacular family film won't be disappointed by this "by-the-books" family outing. Recommended

The One and Only Ivan is one of Disney's COVID-19 victims, having originally been set for a mid-August theatrical release, this entertaining if predictable family outing has now become a Disney+ streaming exclusive.

The story of The One and Only Ivan is loosely based on a true story, but we're talking about a talking animal film here (a genre of its own these days), and so just how much of a true story it can be, that's up to you to decide. What is interesting is that while the film centers on the plights of its animal entertainers at a mall circus, parts of the story itself could very well apply to their human counterparts during the dying days of a particular form of entertainment, for example, Vaudeville. These are dying genres with ever diminishing audiences and stars that just wanted to keep things going. At least that's the story beat the film starts with, which slowly morphs into something you'd come to expect given the subject matter of wild animals performing for humans.

Still from The One and Only Ivan

Another positive you have to give to the film, and this is a departure from the novel from which it is based on, is its slightly nuanced take (which might be somewhat annoying at the same time for animal rights activists) of its human characters, particularly that of circus ringmaster Mack, played with great attention by Bryan Cranston. The relationship between animals and humans, particularly wild animals, has always been a complicated one, and this film doesn't really try to go too deep into the debate. But at the very least, it doesn't take the easy road, which is to make Cranston's character an outright baddie or to completely excuse his flaws and moral blind spots (like The Great Showman did with P.T. Barnum, to be fair, in great style). Not completely, anyway.

Still from The One and Only Ivan

This moral quandary aside, the film is a solidly made one and the talking animals don't feel too out of place - are they getting better at doing these kinds of effects, or are we just getting used to them? The plot becomes predictable almost as soon as the film begins, and there's the usual amount of emotional manipulation going on to squeeze out a few tears from those most susceptible. Sam Rockwell does a more than a passable job as the voice of Ivan, but as usual, Danny DeVito (as Bob the mutt) steals the show. Parents will be glad to have this film in their arsenal for stay-at-home days, which is basically almost every day these days. Director Thea Sharrock ('Me Before You') does an adequate job given the story and script.

Still from The One and Only Ivan

Only Netflix (and maybe Hulu) would have the audacity to have a film starring Bryan Cranston and voiced by talents such as Sam Rockwell, Angelina Jolie, Helen Mirren and the always great Danny DeVito, go straight to streaming. While Disney has been forced to do this due to current events, perhaps 'The One and Only Ivan' has found the right home after all, as it really wouldn't have stood out enough to warrant a good go at the movies. At least on Disney+, it will reach the right audiences, and in greater numbers too.

You can stream The One and Only Ivan on Disney+ from 21 August, 2020. Subscribe to Disney+ for only $8.99 per month, or $89.99 per year (16% off).

This review is based on a screener copy of the film provided by Disney. This review contains affiliate links which when used to purchase a product/service, helps to support this site via affiliate commissions. This in no way affects our objectivity when it comes to the review.