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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The One and Only Ivan movie review: A stirring film with a lot of heart

The One and Only Ivan makes for a moving and delightful 90-odd minute experience -- for all age groups. The messages it propounds — the ills of an anthropocentric worldview, compassion towards our fellow living organisms, and so on — may be old, but the film still works by doing most things right.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Written by Kshitij Rawat | New Delhi | August 21, 2020 5:32:56 pm
The One and Only Ivan movie reviewThe One and Only Ivan is available on Disney+ Hotstar.

The One and Only Ivan movie cast: Bryan Cranston, Sam Rockwell, Angelina Jolie, Danny DeVito
The One and Only Ivan movie director: Thea Sharrock
The One and Only Ivan movie rating: Three and a half stars

The One and Only Ivan is a film which, without saying anything particularly profound or interesting to anybody over the age of 14, makes for a moving and delightful 90-odd minute experience — for all age groups.

A Thea Sharrock directorial, The One and Only Ivan revolves around a silverback gorilla (the titular Ivan) who performs for his human master Mack (Bryan Cranston) in a mini-circus inside a mall. A gentle soul whose preoccupations include hanging out with other captive animals and a stray dog that sneaks into the cages once in a while, Ivan, the headliner of the circus, nevertheless has to look fierce and deadly in front of the audience. Because that is how humans imagine gorillas are, which in turn justifies all sorts of cruelties meted out to these animals.

Despite all the beating of the chest and roars, not many people are buying tickets to the acts. His new predilection becomes drawing stuff using spare crayons which the janitor’s daughter gifts him. This helps Mack sell tickets to the acts somewhat. The arrival of a baby elephant, Ruby, further helps restore the business to its glory days.

However, Ivan had promised Stella, an old elephant who died soon after the arrival of Ruby, that he would not let Ruby live out her days in a cage. When the more routine running away method fails, he finally uses his art to make the case.

As I said, the film’s central message does not say anything bold or new, and yet the film is strangely affecting. I have not read the book, but the script and direction are quite sharp, and despite moments of rumination and quite a bit of conversation, the movie never feels slow.

The premise makes the film sound more adventurous than it actually is. In reality, this is a contemplative film, which should not be confused with boring. The story does not have a villain per se, and so the stakes are not as high as you would expect. Mack is not bad, as humans go. Although he does exploit animals to earn money, he also genuinely cares about them and is generally a kind man.

There is just enough humour in the script to make you chuckle every now and then. The film knows when to stop being flippant, and gives emotion-heavy moments their due.

As for performances, there isn’t enough Bryan Cranston here. The actor does his best in whatever screen time he has been given, and anyway, after Breaking Bad, his career can only go downhill.

It is Ivan who is the hero here, and Sam Rockwell adds a lot of depth into the character just by his voice. There are moments when Ivan feels like somebody you’ve been friends with for years. The voice-cast is otherwise impressive too, especially Danny DeVito, who is an inspired choice to voice the stray dog, Bob.

The technical aspects also make this movie more than worth its screen time. The visuals, especially the astoundingly detailed animals (so much so that it is nigh impossible to tell those computer-generated characters from actual animals) and music (most notably in emotion-heavy moments) are both top-notch.

Overall, I quite enjoyed The One and Only Ivan. The messages it propounds — the ills of an anthropocentric worldview, compassion towards our fellow living organisms, and so on — may be old, but the film still works by doing most things right and telling a charming story that should appeal to all ages.

The One and Only Ivan is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.

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