Based on the book of the same name by KA Applegate, ‘The One and Only Ivan’ deals with the story of a silverback gorilla named Ivan who lives in a cage at a mall. The narrative (in first person) starts off with Ivan (voiced by Sam Rockwell) who is caged in the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. In times when we are forced to remain indoors, it is the story of Ivan wanting a little freedom – as small as being in a zoo rather than being in a cage.
Ivan is the main attraction of Big Top Mall. He performs for Mack (Bryan Cranston), the owner (who has seen brighter days), alongside other performers – Stella (voiced by Angelina Jolie), an African elephant. Mack is assisted by George (Ramón Rodríguez) and his daughter Julia (Ariana Greenblatt).
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. Mack gets a new baby African Elephant Ruby (Brooklynn Prince) and Stella becomes her adopted mother.
Now Ruby becomes the star of the show. Ruby’s arrival changes the atmosphere in the animal enclosure. She ignites the spark of freedom. The rest of the story is about whether the animals continue to be in lockdown, or earn their freedom, albeit in a zoo.
The movie portrays a moving and delightful 86-minute experience notwithstanding the varied age groups. Director Thea Sharrock ensures that it has a little something for all. He plays with human nature – wanting something different. Expecting something more. When people are not satisfied with the chest-beating and roaring behaviour of the gorilla, the owner showcases Ivan’s ability to draw.
One would find most of Disney’s teachings – about hardships of losing parents both biological and adopted (Ruby the baby elephant loses its mother and then Stella), of survival (Mark does not mistreat animals, he is good to them but uses them as attraction); aping man’s behaviour (Murphy, a rabbit, rides a toy firetruck), of how people believe in stereotypes (Stella tells Ivan humans like animals one way when Ivan asks as to why people want an angry gorilla) and also having annoying friends (when Ivan starts drawing his first picture, Bob annoys Ivan with questions of what his drawing is). One can also see anxiety (when Ruby is pushed into the limelight alone without Stella’s company).
There really was a gorilla named Ivan who lived in a cage for 27 years before being adopted by Zoo Atlanta in 1994. This film is a combination of fight for animal rights and entertainment. It is genuinely hard to live life in cages. People in self-quarantine can empathise with the need to step out even for a moment for a lungful of fresh air, to look at another being and, most importantly, the feeling of self-assurance that you are not alone.
The tragedy is that man has forgotten that animals have feelings too. The message in the movie is clear – animals have feelings too. They need their space and freedom. The planet is theirs too.
This movie is not a Congo. This movie is not about leading Amy back to her home in the Congo jungle. This is about Ivan. This is about his freedom (nay, about freedom). This is about animals not being able to adapt to the wild after spending most of their lives in captivity. There is a scene where Ivan tells Ruby to “trust that kindness will always be therewhen you need it. Not all humans are bad”. I really hope it is true.
Truly and surely, there is one and only Ivan! Watch it to enjoy freedom.
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