It’s the age old question asked by any film or print fan around the planet. I know how many times I’ve been asked, ‘why would you read that, they made a movie?’ Obviously it’s because the book is always better.
But is it really?
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.
The One and Only Ivan was perfect for adapting to the screen. The story is tender and sweet, with a little heartache, but simple enough to not need too many changes to make it suitable for a movie.
I’ve heard a lot of people complain about CGI, but it’s never really bothered me. Cartoons, animatronics, CGI… they’re all ways of bringing the unrealistic to life. I thought Ivan and his friends all looked good, even if I could tell they weren’t “real”. They felt real. Ivan, Stella, and Ruby, they all hit those notes inside me. Just like the book, they made my heart hurt.
However, despite how everything was laid out for a beautiful and thought-provoking children’s movie, the adaptation still decided to change things unnecessarily.
The best parts of The One and Only Ivan was in how Katherine Applegate didn’t shy away from the reality the animals faced. There were elephant hooks, and they were directly responsible for how Stella lived. Mac did care about the animals, but not more than he cared about money, yet in the movie they had Bryan Cranston portray him as kind and gentle. Humans can be both good and evil, and that was an important aspect of this story.
There was also an escape scene that felt gratuitous. It didn’t add anything important to the story. It just gave the audience what everyone was expecting, even though it was meaningless.
Finally, at the end of the movie, Ivan woke up and was returned to a sanctuary with other gorillas in a magical happy ending. In comparison, the book talked about the steps needed to prepare Ivan for other gorillas. It explained how Ivan was frightened. He didn’t know how to be a Gorilla.
Then, during the credits, the movie dipped into the history of the real Ivan, The Urban Gorilla. They gave a brief history of the true story, but they left out how Ivan never truly acclimated to other gorilla’s. How he had been changed having been separated from his own species. He never sired any babies and didn’t build connections with any other adult gorillas. He felt more at home with humans even though they were the reason for his confinement in the first place. It was a happy ending, with him living on a sanctuary, but it wasn’t the life he was supposed to have had. It was bittersweet.
I’m sure I made this too obvious, but I can’t help it. The winner was absolutely the book. The movie translated a story of animals needing rescue. They did capture the history of Ivan, kinda. The audience will walk away thinking about how it was sad Ivan lived in a mall for 27 years. In that, it was successful.
I just feel like they looked for ways to make humans seem less villainous. Stella just had a bad leg, randomly. It didn’t have anything to do with the abuse she suffered as a circus elephant. Except that it was an important part of her past, and why she was so devastated when Ruby was brought to Big Top Mall. That history is why Ivan got so angry at Mac when he was training Ruby. It was important.
It was also in how people were the rescuers. All was made right in the movie, almost like the ramifications of a wild animal living separated from their kind can be solved by simply putting them together again. There are lasting consequences, and that important lesson wasn’t included.
If you would like to read more about the real Ivan, I enjoyed this article.