A silverback gorilla in a mall – sounds absurd! However, The One and Only Ivan Movie was actually based on the true story of a shopping mall gorilla. This Disney movie was originally scheduled to be released in movie theaters – and you know COVID has its way of changing things. Life changes, things change, and even how humans view the world changes. Ivan is one of those changes that signify we are constantly re-evaluating life.

When the real Ivan came to a shopping center in Tacoma, WA, in 1967, many people had never seen a silverback gorilla. This would have been a treat to see up-close and personal. However, just because something would have been a treat, doesn’t make it the best for the gorilla or the human!

But it is precisely because of gorillas like Ivan, that we know so much more about silverback gorillas. As we learn more, we become more aware. The more aware we become it seems we begin to judge harshly the humans that have come before us. May we remember that we are on a journey to learn, become better, and do better. May we never forget that without the lessons taught by the errors of previous generations, we would never be “so enlightened.”

Parent Movie Review of Disney The One and Only Ivan


Ivan (voiced by Sam Rockwell) is a Silverback Gorilla living in a small enclosure in the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. Stella (Angelina Jolie) is an older elephant and offers Ivan and the other animals the voice of wisdom. 

Ivan the silverback gorilla in the movie

Bob (Danny DeVito) is a scruffy stray dog who lives in Ivan’s cage. 

Murphy (Ron Funches) the rabbit, Henrietta (Chaka Khan) the chicken, and Snickers (Helen Mirren) the poodle, are just a few of the other animals who perform in the “circus-like” show in the mall owned by Mac (Bryan Cranston).

The animals escape from the Big Top Mall

Ivan has been with Mac since he was a baby gorilla and is the headliner in the show. When Mac enters the “circus arena,” he plays a ringmaster with an accent. It is apparent that Mac’s livelihood depends on Ivan drawing in crowds.

Ringmaster in a circus

The show was once successful, but less and less people come to see the One and Only Ivan. Mac desperately needs to come up with new ways to keep the show exciting. One way he attempts this is by purchasing a baby elephant named Ruby (Brooklyn Prince).

It is Ruby that causes Ivan to begin to talk about his life before being captive, and he begins to dream of life outside the mall once again. And it is Ruby that sends Ivan on a quest to free the mall animals.

Julia from The One and Only Ivan

What Parents May Want to Know

I answer more questions below, but in an attempt to not give away any spoilers, I avoid talking about some topics in the body of the Disney+ Movie Review of The One and Only Ivan.

The One and Only Ivan is rated PG. But does that mean you want your child watching it? Be aware that there are some sad scenes, however, there is no language or scenes that would cause a small child to be frightened. 

Julia (Ariana Greenblatt) plays a young girl whose father, George (Ramon Rodriguez) works at the mall. Julia’s mother is sick. It is never stated what is wrong with her.

For the most part, this is a movie that embodies the Disney brand – wholesome, family entertainment with few reasons to shy away from watching with young and old alike.

Disney The One and Only Ivan


I purchased the book years ago and never read it. When I heard the movie was coming out, I read the book. You can read my full review of The One and Only Ivan here!

While the book is “based on a true story,” Katherine Applegate, author of The One and Only Ivan took creative liberties when crafting the story. In an attempt to give Mac a voice, Applegate told the story using Ivan as the narrator.

In the movie version, the One and Only Ivan jumps from present to past several times. While it was clear to me, this may be hard for some children to understand.

Additionally, there are a few sad scenes. 

My age recommendation is 5 and up because of the storyline and how slowly the movie moves at times. 

A tender moment between Ivan the silverback gorilla and Mac his owner


Do any animals die in the show? 

YES, Stella the elephant dies in an incredibly sad scene.

Are any animals “mistreated” on screen?

No, there are no animals mistreated on the screen besides being shown housed in cages. HOWEVER, Ivan’s father is killed in a “Bambi’s mother” way. You hear a shot and then Ivan says, “I never saw my father again.” Additionally, Tag, Ivan’s sister, dies when they are young – again not shown, but talked about.

Bob, the dog, talks about being dumped off on the freeway.

In the movie the animals break out of the mall. Do the animals break out of the mall in the book?

No, in the book, and in real life, the animals do not break out. However, Ivan is eventually moved to Zoo Atlanta in 1994.

Did the real Ivan really draw and paint pictures?

Yes! In real life, Ivan painted pictures.

Additionally, the end of the movie shows photos of the real Ivan. Ivan was eventually placed in a zoo with a lot of room to roam. Sadly, Ivan died in 2012.

To read more about the Real Ivan, visit The One and Only Ivan Katherine Applegate site

Additional places to find out more about Ivan: Zoo Atlanta

The Real Gorilla from The One and Only Ivan

A Mom Reviews the One and Only Ivan Movie

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