The One and Only Ivan Parent Guide
This is a good family film; not a great film, not a terrible film, but a comfortable story that avoids digging too deeply into its subject.
Parent Movie Review
The circus at the Big Top Mall is in trouble and its star act, Ivan the silverback gorilla (voiced by Sam Rockwell), is worried. He tries roaring more loudly and beating his chest more fiercely, but attendance continues to lag. Then Ruby, a baby elephant (voiced by Brooklynn Prince) arrives and circus owner Mack (Bryan Cranston), believes she will save the show. As the crowds applaud for the shy little pachyderm, Ivan’s self-esteem takes a blow. He sighs “It’s not the baby’s job to save the troop. It’s my job. I’m the silverback.”
Ruby’s arrival does more than threaten Ivan’s sense of self; it also changes the direction of his life. When Stella, the circus’s aging elephant (voiced by Angelina Jolie), faces the end of her life, she asks Ivan to promise to take Ruby away from the circus. “I want her to have a life different from mine,” she pleads. “I want her to be free in a safe place. Not a cage.” With this promise to keep, Ivan’s goals pivot from shoring up the circus to leaving it for good, but this is going to be more difficult than he imagines…
The One and Only Ivan is a good family film. It’s not a great movie but it’s not a terrible one either and that’s a pretty comfortable place for a show to be. Comfort seems to be the goal here: the film provides lots of reassuring and uplifting messages about friendship and loyalty, about living your dreams, and about sharing your distinct talents and gifts. It avoids looking too deeply at anything that could cause unease – like the complicated relationship between Ivan and Mack. Their lives are intertwined, Mack having adopted Ivan as a baby and raised him in his own home, destroying his marriage in the process, and creating a relationship defined by affection, control, mutual need, and resentment. Those tangled emotions become increasingly mixed with grief and pain when Ivan remembers his years in the wild. As Ivan mourns his lost family and expresses his personality through art, the movie raises questions about animal rights…and then fails to address them.
Although the film seems to take the easy path through the story (which is based on a real life silverback gorilla), the computer whizzes at Disney go hard into creating the CGI animals. Their work is spectacularly successful. The elephants have skin that looks dry and wrinkled and Ivan’s face and fur are incredibly, beautifully detailed. But the most amazing part of their work is the animals’ eyes. As I watched the movie, I kept asking myself how computer animators could give these animals souls. The Mouse House has largely overcome the problems it had with CGI animals in The Lion King and has created critters whose emotions can be seen in their faces. Worry, fear, doubt, discouragement, hope, deceit, pain, fatigue, surprise, happiness – all of these feelings play out across the pixels that somehow combine to make eyes that shine, dim, beam, twinkle and glare.
With its impressively detailed animal characters and heartwarming story, The One and Only Ivan promises a pleasant movie night for kids, especially if they like animals, and maybe even their parents too. It even comes with a life lesson: don’t wear a toupee while training an elephant. (You’ll have to watch the film to find out why.)Directed by Thea Sharrock. Starring Sam Rockwell, Angelina Jolie, and Bryan Cranston. Running time: 94 minutes. Theatrical release August 21, 2020. Updated August 20, 2020
Watch the trailer for The One and Only Ivan
The One and Only Ivan
Rating & Content Info
Why is The One and Only Ivan rated PG? The One and Only Ivan is rated PG by the MPAA for mild thematic elements.
Violence: A gorilla roars and beats his chest frequently. A dog bites a man in the backside. An animal breaks down doors. An animal is shot and killed: audio only. A man is locked in a cage. An elephant dies, but the death is not graphic.
Sexual Content: None noted.
Profanity: None noted.
Alcohol / Drug Use: None noted.
Page last updated August 20, 2020
The One and Only Ivan Parents' Guide
For more about the real gorilla the movie is based on,you can read here:
Zoo Atlanta: Meet Ivan
Do you think animals should be in circuses? Or do you think they should be free?
Thought.co. Animal Cruelty in Circuses
Everylivingthing.ca. Circus Animals
Ivan winds up in a zoo where he seems to be much happier. What do you think are the pros and cons of having animals in zoos?
Thought.co. Arguments for and Against Zoos
Loved this movie? Try these books…
This movie is based on the Newberry Medal winning novel The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. She has also written a sequel entitled The One and Only Bob. Also by Ms. Applegate is Wishtree, the story of a tree on whose branches community members tie their wishes. A child uses an imaginary friend, who happens to be a giant cat, when his family loses their home in Ms. Applegate’s Crenshaw.
Ivan’s true story is told in the picture book, Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla, written by Katherine Applegate and illustrated by G. Brian Karas.
Related home video titles:
An assorted bunch of critters bust out of the zoo in Madagascar and proceed to have zany adventures all around the world in Madagascar Escape 2 Africa and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. A CGI tale with similar elements, The Wild features a lion who sneaks out of the zoo and inadvertently gets shipped far, far away.
A young girl goes on the run with her yeti friend so he won’t be cooped up in a collector’s private zoo in Abominable.
Since they don’t want to be baked in pies, a flock of barnyard chickens plan their own escape in Aardman Animation’s stop motion classic, Chicken Run.
Animals are also the stars of circuses. In Netflix's Animal Crackers, a man learns that the uncle who bequeathed the circus to him had a trick up his sleeve – crackers that turn people into animals. Also set in a circus is Disney’s classic story about the elephant with the big ears, Dumbo. Teens who enjoy musical dramas will get a kick out of the melodic retelling of the career of PT Barnum in The Greatest Showman.