The One and Only Ivan (2020)
PG mainly because it is a live-action movie. Nothing really terrible or scary happens in the movie, but the animals get sad. There are also sad kids. Oh, an animal dies from natural-ish causes, but that can pretty much traumatize a kid, a 'la Bambi. I'm going to talk about this soon, but the movie recontextualizes some questionable behavior to make it family friendly. PG.
DIRECTOR: Thea Sharrock
Another blog entry that somehow slipped through the cracks. My process involves watching a movie and then, when the movie is over, opening my Notes app to remind me what movie I watched in what order. For some reason, I never entered The One and Only Ivan. I apparently had the state of mind to put it in the Academy Award section without actually entering it into my phone. It was only while I was updating the website that I discovered that The One and Only Ivan wasn't on the list anywhere. Now that you know how the sausage is made, please excuse my lack of freshness with this blog entry. I really don't think I'll get everything written about by the time that the Academy Awards come around. It's weird how I'm prioritizing The One and Only Ivan, but I also know that if I delay anymore, there's no way that I'll remember anything about this movie.
Perhaps that may be a bit damning. The One and Only Ivan has a couple things going against it. The first, and this tends to be a me thing (but I know I'm not alone here!). Because The One and Only Ivan is a Disney+ exclusive made for Disney+, it has a bit of a disposable vibe to it. Now, I've slightly changed my tune on original films made for streaming services. Heck, if pandemic has done anything positive, it has made movies more available to a general audience. The low stakes model has made me watch things that I know that I wouldn't have paid money to go see. But the other end of that model often involves an element of low-investment / low-return. The less I invest in a movie, the less I'll ultimately care about the movie's greatness. For all I know, if I spent money on a movie ticket to go see The One and Only Ivan, I might find myself watching the movie more aggressively and appreciating it more.
But the other element of this movie is that it feels wildly outdated. I'm not talking about visual effects or really anything that involves storytelling. It just seems like celebrating the concept of the circus has kind of died out. I know that with Tim Burton's Dumbo, that motif seems to had this attempt at reigniting the aesthetic and nostalgia behind the concept of circuses. But the politics behind the circus is kind of gauche. Heck, people are having a hard time politically supporting the concept of a zoo. I don't know how much love the circus is going to get. Compound this idea with the idea of a circus inside of a mall and there's this element of complete cynicism that washes over me. The movie starts off with the tag, "Based on a true story." Boy, this one really pulls at the threads of that story. Yes, the movie ends with the photos from the real story. But like Saving Mr. Banks, Disney has gone back to glorifying a problematic past by sanding out the rough edges to history.
I'm a big shot producer, okay. (This is an imaginary situation. I'm a small time blogger / teacher in real life. This is for the sake of argument.) I tell you that I am casting Bryan Cranston as a failing circus ringleader inside of a mall. I then pitch this as an escape movie where the animals flee the mall. This sounds borderline PG-13 or R. Why? In my head, a circus owner inside a mall is probably wildly irresponsible. In a post-Tiger King era, we get that the guy who probably unimaginably cruel to get the animals to do tricks. There's no way that the actual story played out the way that the film presents. The movie is absolutely terrified to present any point of view as wrong. But the problem of the story is that there are two very contrasting philosophies going on here. The first belief is that small mom and pop businesses can make it in corporate America. To do this, they need to have the things that other circuses don't. But a completely contrary belief is that animals shouldn't be held captive, especially inside of a mall in middle America. Yet, the movie promotes both notions.
And in the end, it caves on both of these beliefs. Mack sees Ivan's sadness in his painting. (I refuse to believe that Ivan just became this amazing painter just because.) He allows him to be freed. Mack's entire life has been taking care of this gorilla for the sake of exploiting him on a billboard. When the animals are freed, Mack...doesn't have a business. One of the subtextual motifs stresses that Mack is aging. He has only known how to run a circus. He borderline has no marketable skills in an era where circuses are dying. But even if he's hired to another circus, isn't he just perpetuating the same issues that he did in his tiny circus? But the other element of the movie that really gets under my craw is that the movie really redefines "freedom". Ivan's goal, along with the other animals, is to return to the jungle. After all, that's what his sadness painting was all about: a return to the jungle. Now, I'm going to be a bit of a jerk and say that there is no wrong answer. Ivan was never raised in a jungle, so returning him to the jungle might be a death sentence. But the movie gives the characters their cake and allows them to eat it too.
When Ivan is placed inside the zoo, he's happy. The camera pans back and we see this gigantic expanse that allows Ivan to roam free. I call shannanigans on how big this pen is. Perhaps the movie is justifying this choice by calling it a wildlife preserve. I simply don't remember. But Mack and all of the employees at the circus can visit Ivan whenever they want. I'm pretty sure it doesn't work that way in anything but a zoo. So we're left with this story of Ivan's quest towards being a real gorilla in the wild, only to have him be satisfied with this fairly sad trick. I hear that there's a sequel novel to this, but I'm going to simply assume that I won't be seeing movie about that. Ivan is thematically still in the same prison that he was in the mall. Yeah, you and I get that a zoo seems better than a mall. But in reality, that pen has to be tiny. It almost seems more like an answer to the human concerns of "What do you do with an 800 lb gorilla?" than actually servicing Ivan's needs.
But it is a cute movie. My brain won't shut up, is the big problem. As much as my kids enjoyed the film, I really don't feel excited for them to watch something like this. A story like this should be watched critically. While not necessarily being an overtly gross story, there's so much skipped to tell a functional tale that it defies reality. I think we're beyond movies like The One and Only Ivan simply because we've told this story before. I didn't hate it, but I can actively say that I didn't really like it either.
Leave a Reply.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.