[Screen It]


(2020) (Bryan Cranston, voice of Sam Rockwell) (PG)

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Drama: A silverback gorilla -- who's the star attraction of a small, mall-based zoo and can talk to the other animals but not the humans -- must contend with a new addition to the show.

For years, the silverback gorilla Ivan (voice of SAM ROCKWELL) has been the star of the Big Top Mall Circus that's long past its heyday. While Ivan can't converse with Mack (BRYAN CRANSTON), the man who raised him since he was little and serves as the headmaster of the circus, he does speak English with the rest of the animals.

That includes his oldest friend, Stella the elephant (voice of ANGELINA JOLIE), and newest one, Bob (voice of DANNY DeVITO), a canine mutt who's not part of the act but hangs around the various cages like he is. There's also Snickers (voice of HELEN MIRREN), a prim poodle who lives in Mack's office; Henrietta (voice of CHAKA KHAN) the baseball-playing chicken; Frankie the neurotic seal (voice of MIKE WHITE); and Murphy (voice of RON FUNCHES), a rabbit who rides around in a toy fire truck.

They're not only cared for by Buck, but also George (RAMON RODRIGUEZ) whose young daughter, Julia (ARIANA GREENBLATT), tries to distract herself from her mom's illness by drawing and hanging around the animals, particularly Ivan. The latter is concerned about the dwindling crowds and does his best to pretend to be a fierce gorilla, but that hasn't been of much help of late.

Things change when Mack introduces the newest animal to the bunch, a baby elephant named Ruby (voice of BROOKLYNN PRINCE) who Stella immediately takes under her trunk, and the newcomer ends up replacing Ivan as the headliner. While contending with that, the gorilla must also figure out how to keep a promise to Stella to find a way to make sure Ruby can grow up and live in the wild rather than a cage.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

It's long been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul and while some people think only people have souls, I firmly believe animals do as well. Having had the pleasure of several cats in my many laps around our solar system, I can say for a fact that when our eyes locked, I could feel our souls connect in a piercing sort of way.

Of course, maybe they just wanted their bellies fed or rubbed. I obviously jest, and while I can't say I've felt that same one-on-one connection, visits to great ape exhibits at zoos and peering into the eyes of chimps, orangutans and gorillas clearly show a lot is going on behind the scenes. And some of that is an innate sense of sadness of being held in captivity to the point that I have to look away due to feelings of guilt and heartbreak.

The CGI wizards who've created the menagerie of animals -- including the titular silverback gorilla -- featured in "The One and Only Ivan" have perfectly captured just that. In the past, computer-generated people and critters had what's been labeled "uncanny valley" aura's about them (think of the characters in "The Polar Express") where they seem more doll-like than real.

That's not the case here in screenwriter Mike White and director Thea Sharrock's adaptation of K. A. Applegate's 2012 children's novel of the same name (that I have not read). The animals feel real -- even if they speak in English amongst themselves -- and at least for the major ones you can feel every fiber of their heart and soul. All of which goes a long way in helping engage viewers in this mostly gentle tale of animals who perform in a suburban mall circus that's seen its heyday, especially financially, come and go.

Ivan (voiced by Sam Rockwell) is the lead attraction at the circus that's owned by the human Mack (Bryan Cranston) who also serves as the ringmaster for the sparsely attended daily shows. The only other main human characters are jack-of-all-trades George (Ramon Rodriguez) whose daughter, Julia (Ariana Greenblatt), distracts herself from her mom's never-identified illness by her artwork, a hobby she shares with Ivan.

While a gentle giant, he does his best to pretend to be ferocious with his roars and chest-thumping, but that's not drawing in the crowds anymore. And that's not lost on him, Mack or the other animals including veteran performer Stella the elephant (Angelina Jolie) or Bob the stray mutt (Danny De Vito) who isn't part of the act but hangs around anyway as Ivan's best friend.

The arrival of baby elephant Ruby (Brooklynn Prince) shakes things up a bit, not only in terms of her stealing the limelight from Ivan as the headliner, but also making him promise the older Stella to one day free Ruby from the confines of the circus and get her to a place where she can live free.

That leads to something of an existential crisis for Ivan, what with having been raised since he was a baby by Mack and thus feeling like he owes him, but also realizing they're essentially prisoners in a way made to perform for humans. Thankfully that doesn't get too preachy, heavy-handed, or depressing, with some of the darker moments lightened by the ever-present comic relief provided by the other animal characters.

But with the main animal ones rendered so well -- especially when it comes to their eyes and feeling like you're peering into their souls -- you'll be hard-pressed not to care about them and the outcome of their story. As such, "The One and Only Ivan" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed August 18, 2020 / Posted August 21, 2020

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