Review: 'The One and Only Ivan' feels overly familiar

Bryan Cranston leads a talented cast in Disney+ talking animal adventure

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

He may be "The One and Only Ivan," but it certainly feels like we've been here before. 

Cobbled together from the spare parts of "Dumbo" and "Bambi," "Ivan" is a story of talking animals breaking free and heading into the wild. It's a film with heart and is told with a soft, gentle hand, but too often it feels like a case of déjà vu.

Bryan Cranston in "The One and Only Ivan."

Ivan, voiced with grace and nuance by Sam Rockwell, is a silverback gorilla who is only fierce when the spotlight is on him in the sideshow he headlines at the Big Top Mall, just off Exit 8.

Otherwise he's a plaintive soul, friends to the other animals with whom he lives at the shopping center, including an aging elephant, Stella (voiced by Angelina Jolie), a pampered poodle, Snickers (Helen Mirren), a baseball-playing chicken, Henrietta (Chaka Khan) and a scrappy mutt (Danny DeVito) who's not part of the show but keeps hanging around. They're all overseen by Mack (Bryan Cranston), a well-meaning huckster who raised Ivan from an infant.  

"Ivan," based on K. A. Applegate's 2012 children's book, goes off in several directions, and isn't quite sure which path to take. When a baby elephant, Ruby (voiced by "The Florida Project's" Brooklyn Prince) arrives to be part of the show, Ivan feels he's being replaced and experiences feelings of jealousy. When he sees Mack being stern with Ruby — "Ivan" is way too soft a film for Mack to be abusive, which is part of its problem — Ivan feels protective of her and begins to hatch a plan to bust the animals out of captivity. Oh and also, Ivan can draw, and when he turns out to be quite the budding artiste, Mack reframes his show around the gorilla's newfound talent. 

The journey feels fractured, but to its credit, "Ivan" is free of the dizzying whiz-bang-boom of many modern children's films. Too often, however, it feels like a rehash of other, better films, and there's not enough that sets "The One and Only Ivan" apart. 

'The One and Only Ivan'


Rated PG: for mild thematic elements

Running time: 94 minutes

On Disney+