Ivan, a silverback gorilla (voiced by Sam Rockwell), is the headline act of a circus show that has been running inside a shopping mall for many years. Every day, ‘the One and Only Ivan’ does his act, along with his fellow performers – elephant Stella (voiced by Angelina Jolie), poodle Snickers (voiced by Helen Mirren), chicken Henrietta (Chaka Khan), seal Frankie (Mike White) and rabbit Murphy (Ron Funches). But audiences are dwindling, and ringmaster Mack (Bryan Cranston) desperately needs a new act, so he recruits baby elephant Ruby (voiced by Brooklynn Prince). Naturally, Stella takes Ruby under her wing. Ruby turns out to be a popular attraction and becomes the new headliner.
Pushed to the side, Ivan reflects on his purpose as a circus animal. But he also learns to draw after the custodian’s daughter, Julia (Ariana Greenblatt), gives him some paper and crayons. And it isn’t long before Ivan’s life takes another challenging turn, when his old and wise friend Stella senses that she’s dying and makes Ivan promise to look after little Ruby and make sure that she’ll be free.
With the help of their stray dog friend Bob (Danny de Vito), Ivan and the others attempt a prison break. Their taste of freedom doesn’t last long, however, and they’re returned to their cages. But now Ivan is more desperate and determined than ever to reconnect with his wild roots and keep his promise to Stella – to make sure that Ruby can grow up in freedom.
Family drama/comedy; talking animals; wild animals in captivity; animal rights; family; friendship
The One and Only Ivan has some violence. For example:
- In a flashback, the audience learns that poachers killed Ivan’s father. The death happens off-screen but is indicated through the sound of a gunshot.
- In one scene, Mack pushes Ruby past the point of exhaustion as he tries to teach her new tricks.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
Nudity and sexual activity
Ideas to discuss with your children
The One and Only Ivan is an adaptation of Katherine Applegate’s award-winning 2013 novel of the same name, which is based on the true story of silverback gorilla Ivan. In real life, Ivan was snatched from the wild in the Democratic Republic of Congo, raised in America, and performed as a circus animal for 27 years. After he came to the attention of animal welfare campaigners, he was transferred to Zoo Atlanta. The real-life Ivan was also famous for his drawings.
By making the animals talk, Disney gives the audience an endearing, funny and inspiring insight into the minds of the animals. And compared to the book, the movie shows less physical cruelty towards animals, even though it clearly indicates how the animals suffer from living a life in captivity, restricted to a small cage and stage. Cheerful Bob provides a funny counterpoint to the movie’s rather sad and thought-provoking undertone, but there are still many emotionally distressing scenes and themes that might upset young or sensitive viewers. Also, The One and Only Ivan is unlike many modern children’s movies in that it takes its time, and young or impatient viewers might find the slow pace challenging.
Despite – or maybe because of these elements – The One and Only Ivan is a great pick for families who are looking for an inspiring family movie with important messages and positive role models. Just bear in mind that it isn’t suitable for children under five years, and we recommend parental guidance for children aged 5-8 years.
These are the main messages from this movie:
- It’s important to fight for your dreams.
- You achieve more with the help of good friends
- It’s important but sometimes difficult to see a situation from someone else’s perspective.
The difficulty of taking someone else’s perspective is dramatised in the character of Mack. He obviously cares deeply for his animals and doesn’t want to lose them, but at the same time it’s clear that his animals would be better off in a more appropriate environment. Viewers are likely to be torn between feeling sorry for the animals but also sympathetic towards Mack.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include friendship, family, teamwork, animal rights, and respect for other people’s perspectives.
This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues like:
- hunting and capturing wild animals
- using wild animals for entertainment purposes
- keeping wild animals in restrictive and inappropriate enclosures.