Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Movie with Abe: The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan
Directed by Thea Sharrock
Released August 21, 2020 (Disney Plus)

Humans have always had a complicated relationship with other animals. Some are treated as beloved pets, while others are killed and eaten for food, or even both depending on the animal and the culture. Causes like veganism and animal rights have led to a reexamination of the way that one species expresses dominance over all others, and humane associations monitor the treatment of animals used in commercial projects as well as risks of extinction and problematic captivity. It would certainly be helpful to know for sure how the animals felt about their own situations, and only in movies like this one is that actually possible.

Ivan is a gorilla who is the star of a mall attraction called The One and Only Ivan. Mack (Bryan Cranston) loyally looks after all of the animals, which include Stella, an elephant, Snickers, a poodle, Henrietta, a chicken, Murphy, a rabbit, Frankie, a sea lion, and Thelma, a parrot, while he would rather not encounter wandering dog Bob. Ivan delights at being the centerpiece of the show, and he experiences considerable jealousy when Mack, noting diminishing attendance and ticket sales, brings in a young elephant named Ruby to entice the audience. Despite his positive interactions with Julia (Ariana Greenblatt), the daughter of janitor George (Ramón Rodríguez), Ivan begins to see that he is destined to live in a freer space where he and his friends can control their own movements.

This film is actually adapted from a book based in part on the real story of a gorilla named Ivan who spent twenty-seven years in a Washington shopping center. The 2012 book by K.A. Applegate, who this reviewer enthusiastically remembers as the author of the “Animorphs” series, imagines Ivan talking and recounting his experiences, a concept mimicked in the film. That will probably appeal more to children than to adults, since familiar voices and animals who can speak are more distracting than anything else to this otherwise expected showcase of animals expressing themselves and campaigning for their right to be free just like the humans who keep them in cages.

This film was released on Disney Plus and is intended mostly for a young audience, one that should appreciate its visual and heartwarming appeal. Its Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects honors the hard work of those who made the animals come to life and appear as if they are in fact speaking, though there’s nothing about it that feels especially creative or groundbreaking as compared with other similar efforts. Voice talent like Danny DeVito does make this more enjoyable, even if the animals talking isn’t a particular merit of the experience. This film’s title proclaims the uniqueness of its main character, and the surrounding project, while decent and pleasant enough, doesn’t feel all that extraordinary.


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