The One and Only Ivan is a 2020 American fantasy film directed by Thea Sharrock from a screenplay written by Mike White, based on the children’s novel of the same name by K. A. Applegate. The film stars the voices of Sam Rockwell, Angelina Jolie, Danny DeVito, Helen Mirren, Brooklynn Prince, Chaka Khan, Ron Funches, Phillipa Soo, and Mike White, with the human characters portrayed by Ramón Rodríguez, Ariana Greenblatt, and Bryan Cranston.

The project The One and Only Ivan was first announced in 2014, but did not go into production until two years later. The cast joined between October 2017 and May 2018, with filming taking place in Florida in summer 2018.

Originally intended to be a theatrical release, The One and Only Ivan was digitally released on Disney+ on August 21, 2020.

The One and Only Ivan Synopsis

Ivan, a silverback gorilla, lives in the enclosure at Big Top Mall. He performs for Mack, the owner, alongside other performers; Stella, an African elephant, Snickers, a poodle, Henrietta, a chicken, Murphy, a rabbit, Frankie, a seal and Thelma a parrot. Ivan is accompanied by a stray mutt, who they later name Bob, who secretly lives in his enclosure. Mack’s janitorial employee George, brings his daughter Julia who frequently interacts with Ivan. One day, Julia leaves her old crayons with Ivan who suddenly begins taking an interest in drawing with them. Julia is apparently the only one who can decipher his drawings and what they mean.

The Big Top Mall begins losing business, much to Mack’s concern, but becomes excited when he purchases a baby elephant named Ruby who begins to draw in a crowd. Ivan is initially hesitant over accepting Ruby, especially when she begins to pry into his personal life. When Stella, who has been caring for Ruby, suddenly becomes weaker and unable to perform, Ivan gives Ruby encouragement to embrace the crowd on her own.

Afterwards, Ruby asks Ivan to tell her a story and Ivan reveals how Mack and his wife, Helen, adopted him when he was just a baby. As Ivan got bigger, Mack became forgiving of his animalistic behavior, but Helen left him out of frustration. Mack eventually purchased the mall and turned it into a circus. Stella asks Ivan to look after Ruby and make sure she is free before passing away.

Mack begins to train Ruby for the circus, which displeases Ivan and he decides to find a way to free her. Ivan’s drawings are discovered by Mack and decides to make it the next big act, but despite the publicity in the news, Ivan refuses to cooperate. At night, Ivan and Bob trick the security guard Castello and free themselves and Ruby. At Ruby’s urging, Henrietta, Murphy, Frankie and Thelma are also released and the animals flee the Big Top Mall to escape to the forest on the other side of the highway.

To their disappointment, the “forest” is just an intersection and they are surrounded by more city. Mack, who was alerted by Castello, manages to bring the animals back and tries to keep their escape a secret.

Ruby asks Ivan to tell her another story, and, at Bob’s urging, Ivan finally explains how he used to live in the jungle with other gorillas. Ivan, then known as Mud, loved to make drawings in the mud and play with his sister Tag, who loved playing tag. Ivan was separated by his family when poachers came and he had not seen any other gorillas since. Julia sympathetically gives Ivan some finger paints and, inspired, he decides to paint a mural.

The next day, visitors come in along with reporters who have heard about the possible escape and decide to film the show. Ivan’s mural, a recreation of a forest and lake, is seen by the crowd who responds positively to it. Julia believes that Ivan wants to be free and informs the reporters.

Soon, protesters arrive demanding the release of the animals. Mack finally gives in and decides to shut down the mall. As all the animals are taken away, Mack has one final moment with Ivan, thanking him for his time. Ivan is taken to a big gorilla enclosure where he is reunited with his kind and, to his astonishment, is situated right next to the elephant enclosure where Ruby is with her kind. Ivan assures Stella’s spirit that Ruby is safe under his watch.

During the credits, photos and footage of the real Ivan is shown along with a summary of his life. In a mid-credits scene, Ivan is greeted by Bob who has been adopted by Julia and George who come visit the enclosure along with Mack to check in on Ivan. In a post-credits scene, young Ivan is chasing a beetle, only to get tackled by Tag.

The One and Only Ivan Cast

  • Bryan Cranston as Mack
  • Ramón Rodríguez as George
  • Ariana Greenblatt as Julia
  • Owain Arthur as Castello
  • Hannah Bourne as Helen
  • Indira Varma as Dr. Maya Wilson
  • Eleanor Matsuura as Candace Taylor

Voices

  • Sam Rockwell as Ivan
  • Angelina Jolie as Stella
  • Brooklyn Prince as Ruby
  • Danny DeVito as Bob
  • Helen Mirren as Snickers
  • Chaka Khan as Henrietta
  • Ron Funches as Murphy
  • Phillipa Soo as Thelma
  • Mike White as Frankie

The One and Only Ivan Development

On April 9, 2014, it was announced that Walt Disney Pictures may adapt the book with Allison Shearmur to produce. On May 6, 2016, it was announced that Mike Newell would direct with a screenplay from Mike White. On March 24, 2017, Thea Sharrock entered negotiations to direct the film after Newell left the project.

The One and Only Ivan Pre-Production

On October 16, 2017, it was reported that Angelina Jolie joined the film as both a producer and the voice of an elephant named Stella. On November 15, 2017, Brooklynn Prince was cast to voice Ruby, the baby elephant. On January 9, 2018, Ariana Greenblatt joined the cast in a live-action role. Producer Allison Shearmur died on January 19, 2018. She will retain her producer credit on the film. On February 23, 2018, Sam Rockwell was cast to voice the titular Ivan, and Bryan Cranston was cast as a circus owner, while Brigham Taylor joined as a producer.

On March 13, 2018, Ramon Rodriguez signed on to a live-action role, that of the father of Greenblatt’s character. On May 1, 2018, Danny DeVito and Helen Mirren signed on to voice characters in the film, while Indira Varma and Eleanor Matsuura will appear in live-action roles.

The One and Only Ivan Production

Principal photography began on May 1, 2018 in Lakeland, Florida, with locations for the film including the Southgate Shopping Center and Resurrection Catholic Church. On May 7, 2019, the film was scheduled for a theatrical release on August 14, 2020 by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. On June 12, 2020, it was announced the film would instead be released on Disney+ a week later on August 21, 2020, due to the closures of movie theaters that started in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

It was moved back to the original August 14 date on July 8, 2020, with the release of the film’s official trailer. On July 27, 2020, it was announced that the film will go back to its original streaming date of August 21.

The One and Only Ivan Reception

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 70% based on 64 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2/10. The website’s critics consensus reads: “An uncertain approach to the story’s darker themes undermines its emotional stakes, but The One and Only Ivan offers heartwarming entertainment for younger viewers.” On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 57 out of 100, based on 23 critics, indicating “mixed or average reviews”.

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