RewindTheTape’s review published on Letterboxd:
Another emotionally investing ride from Disney. Right from the opening shot of Ivan, which was quite stunning, the movie demonstrates the amazing CGI and motion capture work for the animals that nearly always delivered perfectly. And there’s some limited, but excellent de-ageing CGI used for Bryan Cranston. There’s also great voice acting from everybody, Sam Rockwell nicely takes on the voice role of Ivan. On the human side: Bryan Cranston is really good as the compassionate Mack. One of the best parts of this is the super charming relationship between the animals and even the humans, which brings loads of heartwarming scenes and touching dialogue between characters. It’s additionally interesting how it provides life through the perspective of circus animals - raising interesting questions like “why do [the humans] think they can name everything?” which is in reference to their own names, and it gives an interesting look into what their viewpoint of the circus life is and how they interpret things. It even has some decent depth for some of the animals and focuses well on their desires to be back in the wild. In the opening, the film does a good job at the beginning setting the trouble of the circus, the animals and how the show is struggling, eventually evolving, leading to a very sweet and touching ending. Thea Sharrock does a good job with the direction as well. One of the things I struggled with is that Mack is so compassionate and you feel for him throughout the movie, so it makes it a little difficult to side with Ivan and the animals at times. However, by far the biggest issue is the poorly structured story, to the point where it can feel like there isn’t even one. The first whole hour feels like a really long first act, as it sets up the characters, but then doesn’t really move anywhere for a long while as it constantly feels like it’s preparing the story (the way a first act would) for a solid hour. The part that feels like the second act’s starting point cannot possibly be the second act’s start, as it’s over 63% through the movie - then it reverts back to the same stuff, it doesn’t really feel as if it has much of a story or structure - there’s just a bit of a thread line between certain aspects and an arc where things happen and change, but there isn’t much of a narrative. It does have a story, but so little happens that it feels like an extended first act (until the ending). And after the initial set-up, the rather uneventful and narrative-less story make it lose a bit of steam, feel a little slow and as if it isn’t leading anywhere at times, particularly in the first act (what I’m assuming is the first act). It’s just that even with the issues with the story, there is a meaning and strong emotional core behind it all, it just wasn’t presented as well as it could have been and not enough happened. Anyway, there was also this absolutely cringeworthy moment dedicated to a ‘why did the chicken cross the road?’ joke that was really on-the-nose and childish (it’s understandably a kids joke). And more nit picky, a scene where there was the cliché ‘bad thing happens so it rains’. “The One and Only Ivan” is a truly touching film, especially at the end and within the relationships of the animals, I just wish that the story was more structured, eventful and narratively suitable.