For the past several years, I’ve attempted to watch as many Oscar-nominated films as possible, and for the past two years I have written reviews of each film and posted them to this blog. Alas, I always run out of time and cannot see everything. This year’ ceremony has been delayed, and I started reviewing before nominations were announced, giving me a decent chance at wide coverage. Today we cover…
The One and Only Ivan
[one nomination for Best Visual Effects]
I have a confession to make. I tend to hate the shit out of live-action animal movies. Even as a kid, they never really did it for me. Homeward Bound was, like, fine. But I wasn’t pumped about it. Ivan is a straight-up live-action animal movie. I just couldn’t really get into. It’s just not for me. Which is fine! Everyone’s got stuff they’re into and stuff they’re not into, so there will be plenty of people out there who will love this film. That’s totally fine. Whatever.
Thankfully, this film isn’t nominated for anything except for Best Visual Effects, which I definitely CAN appreciate despite my lack of overall interest. The main achievement here is that the animals look 100% real, even when they are talking, or doing other things that aren’t typical animal behavior. I don’t know how they did it (and don’t care enough about this to bother looking it up). I don’t know how much they used real animals that were well trained, versus used CG that looked very realistic. Presumably there was some combo. But it was absolutely flawless. The animals didn’t seem to move unnaturally like most CG animals. Yet their expressions and behaviors (and speech!) can’t be just well-trained animals. The whole thing was seamless, which was great. I’ll also add that I’m happy to see a lack of Blockbuster Action Flicks in this category. Elevating effects that are applied more subtly than in the BLOW YOUR SOCKS OFF action films we usually see here seems very fitting to me. It lets us really appreciate the art without having it screamed at us. So bravo, kudos, etc.
We also have some talented actors in this film, which I appreciated. My buddy Sam Rockwell (he asked me for a light once! Which means we’re super tight, right?!) stars as the voice of Ivan the gorilla. Bryan Cranston is the loving-yet-frustrated circus manager (or whatever). Danny DeVito is perfect as the scrappy street dog. Helen Mirren, though, is under-utilized as the posh poodle. You’ve got freakin’ HELEN MIRREN, the goddess of screen, and you only give her like 10 lines? So weird. I’m also sad to say, whenever Stella the elephant spoke, I was thinking “Man, this voice is just not matching up. Not a fan.” Turns out it was the voice of Angelina Jolie, one of my all-time favorite actresses! GAH! I noticed she was also a producer for the film, so maybe doing a voice herself was a way to save money so they could afford Helen Mirren for 10 lines? Who knows. Everyone else was fine, and we got a decent child performance out of some kid I am too lazy to look up who plays the kid who gives Ivan his first crayon. I think her character’s personality and age didn’t quite match up, which struck close to home for me because I was in a play in 5th or 6th grade where I had to say the dumbest stuff that would have been way more appropriate for a much younger child. It made me feel like an idiot. Same vibe came off of this kid, though that’s on the writers and casting directors, not on her.
At the end of the film we find out that the story of Ivan the gorilla is totally true (minus the talking, presumably). Knowing it’s a real story was kinda nice. Still boring, but nice.
One thing the film struggled with was walking the fine line regarding treatment of animals. Ivan is saved and cared for by Cranston, who loves him like crazy. However, he still ends up keeping him captive in a small enclosure and using him for money. Ivan dreams of freedom, but he’s not totally sure why. Ivan feels almost like a domestic abuse victim, who wants to escape but also loves his abuser. The film would be a lot easier to pull off if Cranston was just a big meanie. But real-world villains are rarely pure evil; they are frequently well-intentioned. I still don’t know how I feel about this tightrope walk. Did we make Cranston too nice? Too evil? I dunno. The movie was too boring for me to care about this more.
Final note: YET AGAIN, the kids’ movies are freakin’ DEPRESSING AS HECK!!! Why are the kids’ films the saddest ones???? I’ve got another 1 or 2 left, and I don’t know if I can handle any more saddo kid flicks. Yeesh.