Cinematic Words: Dogs, Elephants, and Gorillas REVIEWING The One and Only Ivan

Welcome back to The Real World According To Sam. Today is Magic Monday and today we've got another Cinematic Words double review. As usual, we will first talk about the book, and then we'll talk about the movie. 

Today we are talking about a relatively recent children's novel that was recently adapted into a Disney + original film:

The One and Only Ivan 

The Book:

Author: Katherine Applegate
Genre: Children's Fantasy
Year: 2012

The One and Only Ivan


Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he's seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home -- and his own art -- through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it's up to Ivan to make it a change for the better. 

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan's unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.


This book is one I've been wanting to read for a long time. Last summer, I went on a road trip to celebrate my graduation from graduate school, and at one point I was in Atlanta, Georgia. My family and I made a stop at Zoo Atlanta, and in their gift shop, we found this book. I knew I had to have it and sure enough, it came home with me. The story of Ivan is partially a true one since there once was an Ivan who lived in a mall, who eventually ended up with a new home at Zoo Atlanta. He passed many years ago now, but his story is still a very interesting one and some of it is told in this book. Naturally, since this book is told from a gorilla's point of view, it isn't a fully true to events story. There are added characters and animal dialogue, so this is clearly rooted in fiction. I do want my readers to know though, that this is partially a tale of an animal who really existed, who really lived at a mall, and who really was named Ivan. 

The book opens up with Ivan introducing himself. This is a chapter book, but each chapter is very short and the text is rather spaced out. I really like how visually accessible it looks, since this is probably very encouraging to young readers. It also sets it apart in a way, further pushing that this is an animal story told by an animal, and not a human who has to follow writing norms. Ivan tells us who he is, where he lives, and what he does during his days. Throughout the book we learn about the animals and people he cares about, and the people who take care of him. We meet Bob, who is a stray, that often sleeps inside Ivan's domain, on his stomach. Ivan's neighbor is Stella, who was picked up from a circus. She still performs at the mall, despite having some difficulties due to being older in age and having several lingering wounds from her circus days. Mack is in charge of Ivan and the Big Top Mall animals, and naturally has all the worries that management standardly does. He wants to bring in more visitors and keep things fresh. Sometimes he isn't the best animal caretaker, but he isn't by any means a bad guy. George is a janitor, who cleans up the mall, but also the animals' domains. He has a very young daughter named Julia, who is an artist. She loves to draw with crayons and often shares supplies with Ivan, while encouraging him to do art. Later we meet Ruby, a baby elephant who was recently out on the savannah with an actual wild family, until she was caught and eventually brought to the mall. 

As the synopsis says, this is the story of Ivan learning that the domain he is so happy with, or at least accepting of, isn't quite what he believed. He loves to make art and draws the things he sees. Julia often understands what he draws, and he is very proud of the fact that people buy his artwork in the gift shop. Ivan notices a lot of details, but doesn't spend a lot of time thinking back on his life, until Ruby arrives and begins asking him for stories about himself. At that point, Ivan has to reflect back on his life, but also consider the new life this adorable baby is entering. 

This book is so charming and enjoyable, but also heartbreaking at times. There are dark moments, but they're done so well and approached from such an interesting angle that it softens the darkness, while simultaneously heightening it more. I think this makes it more approachable and understandable for kids, without being too overwhelming. It sends the message home, but it does it with grace and style instead of slamming it into the brain with a reality hammer. Reality is real enough without having to be blunt about it. It is clear, but never overly pushy or harsh. 

The characters are very well presented and detailed. Each has a different perspective that create an interesting environment within the mall. They all see life differently, but ultimately, they are all a kind of family. Bob is funny and independent. Stella is elderly with a memory full of a different kind of life and with Ruby, maternal. Ruby is the youngest and most curious, but also the most scared of being somewhere new. Ivan is Ivan. He's artistic and perceptive, and ready to help his friends when the time comes, even if he isn't always sure of himself. He is a silverback gorilla, but realizes he simultaneously isn't because of the way his family is compared to those of gorillas he has seen on TV. 

The plot of the story is very straightforward and there is really just one dominant setting throughout the majority of the book. However, this doesn't make it at all boring. We see the world through Ivan's eyes and we see how his perception changes as days go by. Ivan's perspective as a gorilla is so interesting and enjoyable. I truly loved this book and I really want to revisit it and re-read it for many years to come. This is the kind of story I'm always on the look out for. It's real, yet fanciful. It can be sad, but is always hopeful. Plus, it has animals and I love animal stories. It's straightforward and simple, but never boring. It is also fresh, even though this kind of story has been told before in different ways. 

I definitely think this is a book that should be read and appreciated. The cover is gorgeous, the story is heartwarming, and the characters are impossible for me to dislike or be irritated with (apart from Mack at times, but even him you can understand and sympathize with to a certain extent). I can see very clearly why this book received a Newbery Medal and was the nominee for so many other awards. If you like children's books or love animals, definitely give this one a read. I highly recommend it. I give The One and Only Ivan a Lone Star rating of ✯✯✯✯✯. This one is definitely special. 

The Movie: 
Screenwriter: Mike White
Director: Thea Sharrock
Year: 2020

The One and Only Ivan Poster.jpg


The One and Only Ivan is a new Disney + original movie based on the book of the same name. The movie tells the story of Ivan and his friends who live at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. It begins with Ivan introducing himself, just like the book. The story progresses through showing Ivan's home, meeting the animals at the circus, and eventually trying to way to keep a promise. 

Like the last Cinematic Words post, I went into this movie knowing the story since I read the book. I purposely wanted to read the book before watching the movie. This is especially because I picked up the book before I knew it was going to be adapted. This is a Disney + original movie, so it should be noted that this movie can only be watched with a subscription to the streaming service. This isn't a movie you can rent or purchase elsewhere. 

There are a few changes made from the book within this film. Predominantly these changes involve the animals included and the exclusion of some dark parts in the book in exchange for others. What I mean by this, is one section from the book that explains about Tag, Ivan's sister, is explained more, while his father's story (as shown in the movie) is not as focused on. The book focuses on less of the animals within this movie's cast. The main characters of the book are Ivan, Ruby, and Bob. In this movie, we actually meet more of the animals, and they are integrated into the main part of the adventure. Also, one scene was added midway, causing a big conflict for Ivan, was not in the book. I thought this was an okay change, but it really didn't do too much for me. It's an acceptable addition. 

Apart from those select things, the movie is loyally adapted from the book. Ivan is still Ivan and he still made a promise he needs to keep. The end of the story was largely the same as well, and I'm happy with how faithful this adaptation is. All of the heart from the book is present. I also liked that the human characters were all still kept decently likable. In the book, Mack has moments where he teeters, but in the movie, you can see he means well, even if he doesn't always make the best decisions. The movie really gets across the point that people can really care about animals, even if they aren't showing it in the best way. It also shows that people can grow and be better given time and the opportunity to do so. I thought this was especially important to keep and show. Many movies I've seen involving animals and captivity haven't done that aspect well. They make things villainous and just let the heroes be the heroes. Sometimes there are gray areas, and being irresponsible in some way initially doesn't make a person bad. It just means a bad decision was made, and good decisions can be made in the future. 

I really enjoyed this movie. It made me tear up, as most Disney movies lately have tended to make me do. The book didn't make me tear up, but it gave me a lot of the same emotions internally. However, there was just something more charming about the book that I didn't quite feel with the movie. I am not sure what it was. It may just be the words that Katherine Applegate used to narrate certain portions. Maybe it is that Ivan has more narration in the book so you really get into him, whereas the movie has to exist with the camera outside of his mind to a certain degree. I enjoyed the movie, but I feel like I'm likely to want to read the book more than watch the movie, particularly since the book does not take long for me to read. 

The animation on this movie is very well done. I am really glad we have reached this point in cinema. You can tell realistic looking stories involving animals, without actually having to bring large animals onto a set. The fact that animation can do this now is remarkable. I thought the animators also did a great job of animating emotion within the faces of each character. The visuals of this movie are beautiful, and I can't applaud the efforts on this aspect enough. I also really enjoyed the inclusion of the pictures of the actual Ivan and his story at the end of the movie. I thought it was a wonderful segment to have. Now audiences can know that even though this is a fictional representation with fantasy elements, there is a factual basis for the core of the story. Animal stories are some of my favorite things to read and enjoy; I thought this was beautifully done. Sam Rockwell voices Ivan and I really liked the emotion he brought to the role. I also really loved Danny DeVito as Bob and Brooklynn Prince as Ruby. I thought Bryan Cranston did great as Mack. He really sold the love for the animals, while still being a guy trying to run a business who has personal blinders on. Ramon Rodriguez did a good job in his role as janitor and caretaker for the Big Top. Ariana Greenblatt also did really well as Julia. She really had the bright, youthful spirit that Julia has in the book. The cast was very well done and did a great job all around. 

Overall, The One and Only Ivan is a fun movie that is beautiful and faithfully takes the story from the pages of the book to the screen. I think this is a great movie for families, particularly those interested in opening up discussions about animal rights and humane conditions for animals. It really allows for a fair view all around. Kids will enjoy seeing the animals, and parents will be taken in by the heart within the story. Adults without kids will probably not be as enamored by this film and may even find it boring, unless they are already Disney fans or people who enjoy stories like these. Since I AM a Disney fan who loves these kinds of stories, who also loves the book, I give this movie a Lone Star rating of  ✯✯✯✯. I will probably watch it several more times, but I will also probably read the book just a few more times than my watches. That's just my current personal preference.