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By: Kristen Pilarski, Volunteer EleAmbassador

The One and Only Ivan Review

Ivan, voiced by Sam Rockwell, in “The One and Only Ivan." Credit: Walt Disney Studios

Disney's release of The One and Only Ivan has once again brought the conversation around animals performing in circuses to the forefront of the public's consciousness using CGI-animated animals. Kristen Pilarski is a volunteer “EleAmbassador” in Roanoke, VA. As an EleAmbassador, Kristen raises awareness in her community for issues facing elephants and the work of The Elephant Sanctuary. The Sanctuary asked Kristen to share her thoughts on The One and Only Ivan:

The One and Only Ivan (2020)

“Not all humans are bad. They can surprise you.” – spoken by the wise old elephant, named Stella. This quote really sets the tone for Disney’s movie rendition of “The One and Only Ivan,” the story of a silverback gorilla, two elephants, and some other animal friends, who spent a good portion of their lives living in a shopping mall. The movie is based on the award-winning book written by Katherine Applegate, which is based on a real-life lowland gorilla named Ivan.

For 27 years, Ivan lived in the shopping mall with his animal friends, doing daily performances for human audiences. His owner, Mack, purchased him when he was just a baby. But it’s not until the arrival of baby elephant Ruby, who wistfully reminisces about her life in the wild before she was captured, that Ivan starts to remember his own time in the wild, short though it was. And it’s not until those memories surface, that Ivan truly begins to yearn for that wild freedom.

At the heart of this movie is the power of friendship and the importance of being understood. Julia, the young daughter of George the custodian, not only discovers Ivan’s proclivity towards drawing but also correctly interprets his artistic renderings of the wild space he used to call home. It’s Ivan’s drawings, and Julia’s insistence, that draws the attention of the public and jump starts the call for Ivan and his friends’ release from their cages.

While there are plenty of lighthearted, fun moments in this movie (particularly from the likes of Bob the dog), the movie does address the tough issue of how life in captivity takes a toll on wild animals. It shows us that some humans will put profits before the welfare of their animals, like Mack waiting too long to call the vet when Stella gets sick, in fear of the costs he might incur. Although painful to watch, scenes like these remind us just how important it is for social animals like gorillas and elephants to be with their own kind, in a place where they can live as they were meant to.

Overall, the tone of the movie is a heartwarming one, and the characters will capture your attention, both the humans as well as the charismatic animals (all animals were CGI animated – no live animals were used). So, should you go to see this movie? I say: YES! It will bring a smile to your face, and a hug to your heart as the characters follow Stella’s advice when she says, “There are places, not very far from here. Safe places. With trees, and grass, and lakes. Where animals can roam free. And where humans can make amends.”

- Kristen Pilarski, Volunteer EleAmbassador

You can read more about the making of the film, including the use of CGI animated animals at https://www.awn.com/vfxworld/mpc-films-digital-gorilla-delivers-emotion-one-and-only-ivan. 

If you are interested in becoming an EleAmbassador like Kristen and helping to raise awareness for elephants in your local community, please visit www.elephants.com/volunteer.

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