At the big top mall and video arcade at exit 8, Mack (Bryan Cranston) is the ringleader of a tiny circus inside a shopping mall. Home to animals including elephant Stella (voiced by Angelina Jolie), poodle Snickers (Helen Mirren), baseball-playing chicken Henrietta (Chaka Khan), mangy mutt Bob (Danny DeVito), Murphy the firetruck-driving bunny (Ron Funches), a neurotic seal named and most impressively, the headlining silverback gorilla, the one and only Ivan (Sam Rockwell). But the truth is, both the mall and the circus within it have fallen upon hard times. The crowds aren’t filling the seats anymore, and the circus is barely making enough money to keep the animals fed.
Mack brings in a baby elephant named Ruby (Brooklynn Prince) to reinvigorate the show, but even though she radiates cuteness, she’s not enoujgh to save the circus. That role, as ever, belongs to Ivan. But for the first time in his life, he’s wondering if maybe circus captivity isn’t the best or only option. He’s not concerned for himself so much as for baby Ruby, who deserves to be in the wild, a concept he can hardly recall or imagine.
This movie is based on the children’s novel by K.A. Applegate, which in turn is based on the true story of Ivan, a western lowland gorilla who spent 27 years living inside a mall enclosure in Tacoma, Washington, never setting foot outdoors. You don’t have to be good at math to figure how emotional this one’s going to be.
A live action/animation hybrid, this movie looks slick, and seamless enough not to detract from its sweet but simple story. The movie, directed by Thea Sharrock based on a script by Mike White (the very one who produced scripts as varied as Beatriz at Dinner and The Emoji Movie), isn’t quite sure where to take its darker themes but it draws some very sympathetic characters and a heartwarming tale about family and home. Cranston seems to be morphing into Ian McKellan before our very eyes, but it’s little Ariana Greenblatt who steals the show and all her scenes as Julia, the arty and intrepid zookeeper’s daughter who just wants her friends to be happy. The One and Only Ivan stole my heart and quite a few tears – a small price to pay for a solid, family friendly option new to Disney+.