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The One and Only Ivan – Movie Review

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The One and Only Ivan – Movie Review

Rating: C (Average)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Walt Disney Studios

It’s easy to feel sympathy for animals and so, cinema has a long history of making them talk and giving them more human emotions. The One and Only Ivan definitely aims to get the audience to support these animals and their wish for freedom from the circus. Unfortunately, the movie overdoes the sentimental angle as almost every scene seems to exist to elicit an emotional reaction. While the special effects are impressive, this storytelling approach does get tiring after a while. It’s all wrapped in an appreciative message about the importance of animal rights, but the execution could have been handled in a stronger manner.

Even though the film has its fair share of cutesy animal hijinks, including an attempted escape, The One and Only Ivan is mostly interested in being sentimental. A few of these scenes peppered throughout the movie would be fine and would be expected for a story of this nature. However, the schmaltziness gets to be overwhelming. The dialogue ends up feeling forced and Craig Armstrong’s score tries hard to pull the heartstrings. The frequency of this makes the film feel a lot longer than its hour-and-a-half runtime would indicate. There are attempts to add humour to The One and Only Ivan, but these don’t produce the desired laughs.

The movie does include a message in support of animal rights and giving them better living conditions. Yet the way the film paints the indoor mall circus creates a confused reaction. The filmmaker sugarcoat the living conditions of Ivan the Gorilla and his companions to the point it doesn’t even seem that bad. Any urgency to get the animals back to the wild mostly comes from a young girl who somehow understands their desires. While he has his flaws, Bryan Cranston’s circus owner Mac is still portrayed as someone with a genuine love for the animals and treats them mostly right. It’s fine that the movie doesn’t want to be an edgy and super-realistic depiction of circuses, but everything still feels softened for the sake of appealing to a younger audience.

Where The One and Only Ivan excels is in its visual effects. Until the end credits, it’s uncertain whether many of these are real animas with computer-generated expressions on them, similar to Disney’s recent live-action Lady and the Tramp remake, or fully created on the computer. That’s a credit to the work of the effects artists, who do give the animals plenty of character. The voice cast is filled with well known names, but their presence never feels distracting. Danny DeVito, as a stray dog, has the most recognisable pipes and even he appropriately fits that little pooch. Meanwhile, Cranston displays Mac’s dual nature well, slipping between excited showman and a working man trying his best to keep his beloved circus afloat.

The One and Only Ivan has its heart in the right place as it seeks to show the desire of animals to roam free in open spaces. However, it’s full of cloying sentimentality and schmaltz, which makes the movie a bit of a trial to get through. One just desires a break from the constant attempts at opening the tear ducts and the pacing is off through the entire film. The movie ends with real footage and explanations of the Ivan who inspired Katherine Applegate’s book and it makes one want to see a documentary on the subject over this sanitized portrayal. It is a harmless family picture, though, so one can’t fault it too much for just wanting to create a pleasant experience.

Stefan Ellison

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