The One and Only Ivan
In one of the most moving films to be released this year, The One And Only Ivan takes viewers on a bittersweet journey to Big Top Mall and beyond.
The film is based on a true story and the award-winning book of the same name by Katherine Applegate. Ivan the silverback gorilla was born in 1962 in central Africa. He was saved from poachers before spending the next 27 years of his life in Tacoma, Washington, in a concrete enclosure at a shopping mall. In 1995, after the animal rights group PAWs had raised money, Ivan was relocated to Atlanta Zoo.
The film begins by introducing us to the very special gorilla himself, Ivan (voiced by Sam Rockwell); his owner Mack (Bryan Cranston); and Ivan’s friends and fellow performers at the Big Top Mall: Henrietta, the baseball-playing chicken (Chaka Khan); Frankie, the neurotic seal (Mike White, also the film’s screenwriter); Murphy, a fire truck-driving rabbit (Ron Funches), Stella, an old and wise elephant (Angelina Jolie); Thelma, a squawking parrot (Phillipa Soo); as well as Mack’s pet poodle, Snickers (Helen Mirren), his human friend, Julia (Ariana Greenblatt); and a funny stray dog, who is later named “Bob” (Danny DeVito).
Ivan and the gang are generally content as the stars of the Big Top Mall, an indoor circus next to a video arcade, but when Ivan’s “angry ape” act starts to tire and crowds begin to dwindle, Mack needs something new to liven up the show. Enter Ruby, a baby elephant, whose presence not only sees the crowds return but reminds Ivan where he is from, touching something deep within him. He begins to question who he is and who he wants to be.
What does it mean to be yourself? Ivan learned from his father at an early age that “anger is precious” and to “use it to keep order and warn others of danger.” But he perceives no danger at Big Top and sometimes finds it hard to “roar for no reason.” When Julia gifts Ivan a set of crayons, he is reconnected with his love of drawing, originally in the mud as a baby, and is transformed from Ivan the angry ape to Ivan the artistic ape, at least as far as Mack’s business is concerned.
But drawing and storytelling, thanks to Ruby’s frequent requests for a bedtime story, expose something more than a crowd-pleasing money grab. Ivan’s reunion with his past in turn means confronting the oft hard-to-swallow truth that outward appearances and day-to-day comforts may not be enough. He learns that while change is scary for all of us, sometimes we have to take a leap of faith. Doing the right thing is not always easy.
While Thelma parrots that “it’s all under control”, we know it is often not under control, but the challenges and hardships make us stronger and push us towards our goals. While Ivan and Bob contemplate the pros and cons of freedom vs. security, viewers do the same, inevitably torn between the warmth of Ivan’s circus family and the innate yearning to be true to oneself.