Saturday 22 August 2020

The One and Only Ivan (Movie Review)

As a kid, I always loved movies with talking animals. From early classics like Babe, to over-the-top comedies like Cats & Dogs. Heck, I even managed to glean some enjoyment out of the critically-reviled Look Who's Talking Now. That's how deep my affinity for talking animals went. Therefore, I can easily see my 8-year-old self loving every bit of The One and Only Ivan, a film that is based on a children's book by K. A. Applegate, which was in turn based on a true-life story.

The movie tells the story of a silverback gorilla named Ivan (voiced by Sam Rockwell). Saved from poachers at a very young age, he would grow up in the care of a man named Mack (Bryan Cranston), an animal lover and the ringleader of a circus inside a Big Top Mall. For many years, Ivan has been the headliner for the show. But when Mack decides to bring in a new act, a baby elephant named Ruby (voiced by Brooklyn Prince), to help reverse their declining ticket sales, Ivan starts to feel threatened.

But when one of his closest friends, an aging Elephant named Stella (voiced by Angelina Jolie), expresses a desire for Ruby to not grow up in captivity like she did, Ivan is tasked with how to plot their escape from their little home inside the mall. He is helped out by his good friend, Bob (voiced by Danny Devito), a stray dog that likes to hangout in his cage. And after he receives some crayons from the young daughter of a stage hand, he takes up a keen interest in painting, a medium that would help them express their desire for a better home to their human masters.

The One and Only Ivan is a heartwarming tale that is brought to life with stunning visuals and a more-than-capable voice cast. All the animals on display were quite expressive, unlike a certain other recent Disney remake which I won't be mentioning by name here. The animation straddles the line between lively and believable, and I was never brought out of the experience. This was of course further helped by the fact that none of the actors gave phoned-in performances, which was something I'd feared would happen the first time I saw trailers for the movie.

All the actors on both sides of the fence brought their A-game to the table. Bryan Cranston in particular brings all the gravitas we've come to expect from him as an A-lister, selling both the energy of a circus ringleader, as well as the raw emotions of a man afraid to lose the thing he cares most about. Like some of the best villains out there, his performance is so nuanced that he ultimately comes across as relatable.

The One and Only Ivan is not without some flaws of course. Its pacing could've used some more tightening as the movie seems to lose some momentum during its second act. It also borrows quite heavily from other movies, and tries to hit you in the feels more times than I felt was really necessary. But these are small nitpicks in a package that is more than serviceable. The movie might not appeal to everyone, but it certainly appeals to the 8-year-old in me.

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