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The Lookout | April 13, 2021

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Movie review: ‘Ivan’ misses tragic point

Movie review: ‘Ivan’ misses tragic point
  • On August 31, 2020

Two Stars out of Five

By Joanna Macgown
Student Freelance Write

“The One and Only Ivan,” currently streaming on Disney+, is the story of a gorilla who paints his way to a better life; a movie which claims to be “inspired by a true story.”

It’s set in a small circus-like attraction inside a mall, with Ivan (voiced by Sam Rockwell) as the “headliner” of a cast of quirky animals including a seal, an elephant and a poodle. And they all talk to each other. Constantly.

Among the stars voicing the characters are Angelina Jolie, Danny DeVito, Helen Mirren and Chaka Khan.

At the beginning of the movie, Ivan is perfectly happy with his life within the confines of a concrete cage, and his only real concern is that their show might be shut down due to a general waning interest in such things.

It’s not until a baby elephant arrives as a new attraction (and the little tike wriggles its way into Ivan’s heart) that he actually starts desiring anything more – not for himself, but for baby Ruby.  Escaping himself is almost an afterthought.

I like talking animal movies. Some people like Hallmark movies, but talking animal movies are my comfort food. As such, I liked this movie well enough. It never really made me feel much, but it was never particularly abrasive, either.

The main issue is that the stakes were never clear. It’s like “Charlotte’s Web”told from the perspective of Charlotte (which could be an interesting story!), but without any immediate life-or-death stakes.

It’s only exacerbated by the way Ivan’s situation is downplayed – when the movie briefly tells the real story before the credits roll, it mentions that he never went outside for 27 years. And while they do technically include that in the movie, you don’t notice it because the character of Ivan doesn’t see it as a problem.

The movie makers want to ascribe human emotions to these animals, but in so doing they forget the fundamental tragedy of their situation.

That tragedy is that wild animals are being forced to perform for the entertainment of humans, while “offstage” they live in concrete cages. They’re too tame to ever truly return to the wild, and are so deprived of nature that even a zoo seems like freedom.