animaldoctor’s review published on Letterboxd:
This is another one of those times where I actually don't feel like this movie quite deserves this low of a rating, but based on how I want to grade the film, I have no choice. The One and Only Ivan is, to me, the definition of a crowdpleasing film. It's a film that is made solely to bring audiences in and put a smile on their face for an hour and a half. In my opinion, there's nothing necessarily wrong with that in theory, heck, I've absolutely enjoyed crowdpleasers from time to time. Where I start having a problem with crowdpleasers is when their cliches and predictable character beats become so familiar that I just can't get invested in the particular way they're telling this story. It feels like the exact same kind of motivational crowdpleaser that people have been enticed with for decades -- a new animal comes into this circus, the main character is annoyed by this new animal but eventually befriends it, they realize they want to accomplish something bigger, and they work to achieve it. That's it. That's pretty much all this movie has to offer, which is a shame because the original novel actually sounds like a really heartwarming and potentially fascinating read. This just felt like the same old kind of animal escape film I've seen a dozen times.
Another huge problem I had with it, though, is that it really doesn't feel like this movie knows what side it's on. In the beginning of the movie, it seems like all of the animals are actually thrilled to be a part of this circus. By the time this new animal shows up, all of a sudden, there are hints that these animals are tired of being locked up and want to escape. The entire rest of the movie then seemingly shifts its perspective to saying that all of the animals in this movie are good and caged and all of the humans in this movie are bad and money-hungry before saying that its primary message is that not ALL humans are bad. I kind of get what this movie was trying to do in saying that the animals were becoming unthrilled with their tamer because they wanted to escape, even though he wasn't actually trying to hurt the animals, but the whole message just comes across as inconsistently edited throughout the entire film, and it makes you wonder who you're even supposed to be rooting for here.
In all honesty, though, as a crowdpleaser, this film gets its job done. The voicework is terrific in this film on all counts and the special effects are actually MUCH more lifelike than I expected them to be going in. There are also some really powerful moments involving the way these animals try to express their feelings of being put in captivity for so long, particularly a giant scenic painting on glass towards the end that was really effective in its point. However, that doesn't change the fact that this story feels so familiar to me that I just didn't care about a single one of the character's plights even though Ivan was a real gorilla. I'm generally not a fan of crowdpleasers unless I can acknowledge that I at least like the characters the whole way through. With The One and Only Ivan, I can't say I disliked them, but I definitely didn't care about them, so where does that leave us? An okay one-time-watch of a family film? That's probably about right.
Letter Grade: C-