Disney+‘s new film based on Katherine Applegate’s New York Times bestselling and Newbery award winning novel, “The One And Only Ivan,” starts streaming August 21. This heartwarming movie also delivers a beautiful message to children about how we can take better care of animals, while still entertaining the entire family with its humor.
“The One and Only Ivan” was inspired by a true story about a real-life gorilla that lived for almost 27 years in a shopping mall in Tacoma, Washington, before being moved to a sanctuary. Author Katherine Applegate came across the story when it was featured in a New York Times article.
I recently was invited to a virtual press junket with director Thea Sharrock, actors Bryan Cranston (“Mack”),Jolie (“Stella”), Sam Rockwell (“Ivan”), Danny DeVito (“Bob the dog”), Helen Mirren (“Snickers the poodle”). Chaka Khan (“Henrietta the chicken”), Phillipa Soo (“Thelma the parrot”), Brooklynn Prince (“Ruby”), Arianna Greenblatt (“Julia”), Ramon Rodriguez (“George”), Ron Funches (“Murphy the rabbit”), and screenwriter Mike White (“Frankie the seal”).
It was the first time the cast got to see each other, since the voice overs were recorded individually. The pandemic also changed all the premiere plans, but thanks to technology families will get the chance to watch this film at home on Disney+.
The story follows Ivan, a 400-pound silverback gorilla, who shares a communal habitat in a suburban shopping mall with Stella the elephant, Bob the dog, and various other animals. He has few memories of the jungle where he was captured, but when a baby elephant named Ruby arrives, it touches something deep within him. Ruby is recently separated from her family in the wild, which causes him to question his life, where he comes from and where he ultimately wants to be.
The challenges of making The One And Only Ivan
For director Thea Sharrock, “it was very much like simultaneously working on two movies at the same time.” That’s because The One And Only Ivan combines live action with state-of-the-art CGI animation.
“On the one hand we started the whole process with the voice actors, because the animators needed their voices to begin to be laid down for the animation journey to begin. Then we shot all of our live-action stuff.” It did not end there. “Then we went back in and we shot the virtual aspects of the film.” She later revisited the scenes to make sure her team had caught all the nuances in the voice actors’ performances.
All that complexity paid off. The film is a beautiful family movie that will tug at your heartstrings.
Children play an especially important role in making adults do the right thing. Arianna Greenblatt ‘s role as Julia is especially important, since she makes her dad ask himself what he should do.
Arianna feels a personal connection to Katherine Appelgate’s novel.“I actually read the book before I even started acting. I read it in third grade. And when I got the job I was looking through my camera roll and I saw a picture of me reading it to the class. It was actually one of my favorites I’ve ever read in my entire life. Because I’ve always been an animal lover. And I’ve always wanted to help animals in any way I possibly can.” Director Thea Sharrock even used Ariana’s original artwork in the movie, which makes it even more special.
As Angelina Jolie –who also is one of the producers—mentions, when art gets it right, when creativity gets it right, it reaches out to a deep place in us. “It’s not a light film. It deals with heavy issues. But it is charming and fun and full of life.”
Both Angelina Jolie and Thea Sharrock had read the book with their children before making the movie, and you can tell how invested they were in this movie. It is definitely a film with heart.
How the cast managed lockdown
The virtual press junket also touched upon how quarantine has changed everybody and it gave the actors a chance to share a different side of themselves.
During lockdown, Bryan Cranston learned how to bake sourdough bread. “And I’m quite-quite proud of it actually. It’s fun!”
Danny DeVito says he started tending to his backyard. “I had a tree planted in my yard, it was a really cool tree. It was a maple tree, a red maple.” He didn’t stop there. He hung bird feeders and has a blast watching the finches come to his tree and line up for the food. Though he was probably joking around, he did seem pretty proud of his tree.
In the meantime, Sam Rockwell self-proclaimed to be a professional dog walker by now. He took a few humorous jabs at Danny DeVito, who does play Bob the dog in the film.
Angelina Jolie, unsurprisingly, used the lockdown to learn even more about foreign policy. “But I think my creativity is my kids,” she adds. “ ‘Cause I’m with them and making up stories before bed or just being silly with them.”
Starting August 21, see how these talented actors allowed Ivan and his friends’ story to come to life with a touch of Disney magic. “Though sadly we can’t be in cinema at the moment,” says Thea Sharrock. “At least we are blessed with having the option of putting it out-right out there to everybody on Disney+.”