It’s hard not to like talking animals, and “The One and Only Ivan” has lots of them. The title character is a silverback gorilla, voiced by Sam Rockwell. Others heard from include a mutt (Danny DeVito), poodle (Helen Mirren), elephant (Angelina Jolie), baby elephant (Brooklynn Prince), parrot (Phillipa Soo), and baseball-playing chicken (Chaka Khan).
They perform in a small circus, the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. Well, the mutt, Bob, just kind of skulks around the edges. But he does it so amusingly — DeVito has great fun gabbing away — that’s OK.
The circus is run by Mack. As played by the ever-welcome Bryan Cranston, Mack is vain, good-hearted, and slightly obtuse. He also nurses a bit of heartbreak, as do several of the non-human creatures. “The One and Only Ivan” is often comic, and not just when Bob is mouthing off, but several heart strings get tugged at. Although the circus is a happy place, let’s just say some animals are happier there than others. That’s the chief thing Mack is obtuse about.
The movie, which is based on Katherine Applegate’s Newbery Award–winning 2012 children’s novel, starts streaming on Disney+ Aug. 21.
“Ivan” is one of those increasingly common hybrids of live action and animation. Mack isn’t animated. He’s Bryan Cranston wearing a top hat. Neither is Ariana Greenblatt, who plays Julia, the daughter of the circus’s janitor. She’s the one who gives Ivan crayons, then paints, thus allowing him to reveal himself as quite the artist. All the animals are computer-generated, not that you’d know it by looking at them. Their interactions with the human characters are seamless — and, it must be said, at times the animal characters come across as less cartoony than the human ones.
Director Thea Sharrock keeps things moving along, though the score works overtime to glop up the story. It’s alternately sappy, peppy, and uplifting. The temptation to watch with the sound off is considerable, though that would do a disservice to the talents of the voice cast.
There are details grownup viewers will get a kick out of. Mack drives an early-model sky-blue Mustang convertible that’s even cuter than Snickers, Mirren’s poodle. Even better, at one point Khan’s chicken offers another character reassurance that has a certain musical ring to it: “Ain’t nobody loves you better.”
Still, “Ivan” is clearly aimed at the younger portion of the entire family. So be aware that a few scenes might distress small children. Among them are the death of an animal character, even though it’s handled with indirection and delicacy, and a flashback to when a very young Ivan is taken from Africa.
As noted, it’s hard not to like talking animals. How easy, though, is it to get excited about them? Applegate published “The One and Only Bob” earlier this year. So if audiences get excited enough, expect a sequel. Just make sure to bring back DeVito.
THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN
Directed by Thea Sharrock. Written by Mike White; based on the children’s novel by Katherine Applegate. Starring Bryan Cranston, Ariana Greenblatt, and the voices of Sam Rockwell, Danny DeVito, and Brooklynn Prince. Streaming on Disney+. 93 minutes. PG (mild thematic elements)
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.