The One And Only Ivan’s Director Took A Very Careful Approach To The Movie’s Super Emotional Scenes

Ivan smiling in The One And Only Ivan

Fair warning: if you’re planning on watching the new Disney+ film The One And Only Ivan this weekend, you should probably prepare to shed a few tears. While the movie notably doesn’t feature a great deal of inter-character conflict, and doesn’t actually have a central villain, it still finds various ways to tug on your heartstrings with its tale of animals longing to be free. It’s a notable aspect of the feature, as it notably stays away from feeling cloying or saccharine, and as such I felt compelled to ask director Thea Sharrock about her approach when I had the chance to interview her earlier this month.

Pulling off something like what The One And Only Ivan does is no easy task, a requires a lot of fine tuning in the post-production process to ensure that the film is hitting its beats well. It’s an interesting aspect of the movie that you can watch Sharrock discuss by clicking play on the video below.

Based on a true story that was adapted as an award-winning children’s book by author Katherine Applegate, The One And Only Ivan centers on its titular character (voiced by Sam Rockwell), who is a Silverback gorilla that has spent the vast majority of his life in captivity working as the main attraction at a circus located inside a shopping mall. When a new animal is brought into the show, a baby elephant (voiced by Brooklynn Prince), the little one begins to ask Ivan all kinds of questions about the outside world, and it awakens something within him that he didn’t always know was there: a desire to return to nature.

To fully explain the film’s most heart-wrenching moments here and now before its release would be me doing my job irresponsibly, but it should be noted that the emotional material all flows organically from the relationships between the characters. It was an aspect of The One And Only Ivan that Thea Sharrock felt was ultimately vital to the project, particularly because of her philosophy as a filmmaker regarding how she wants audiences to feel about her movies:

I'm not afraid, I never have been, to produce work that tries to really engage emotionally with an audience. And whether that is somebody sitting on their own and going through that experience on their own, or sitting with one other person or with a group of people, I think it's a really important thing to do in life. And I think just literally I think it makes you feel better, whether it's laughter or whether it's tears, going to that emotional place makes you literally feel different afterwards. And what I wanted with this movie was to try constantly, and you're right, during post it was the biggest thing that we did, was to monitor that it wasn't too sad too much of the time.

If a movie is beating you over the head with sad moment after sad moment, there is a certain point where the satisfaction that comes with having a film effect your emotionally is replaced with a certain resentment and a feeling that you are being manipulated. Avoiding this is crucial for any heart-filled drama to avoid, and that was a task very much understood by Thea Sharrock in the making of The One And Only Ivan.

Recognizing the need to create a kind of emotional equilibrium in the movie, there was a focus in the editing room while working with editor Barney Pilling to ensure that the story was taking an audience on a journey and keeping things moving by changing things up. Sharrock explained,

We really worked very hard to try and get the balance, to keep the uplifting, to keep the inspirational, to keep the hope, and to keep the jokes flowing just when you kind of need them so that before you know it, and you get to the very end, whether you're smiling or whether you have tears in your face or both, you've been on a journey that's taken you up as well as down. But you're absolutely right, during post that was absolutely one of the most important things. And this is where Disney are fantastic and so incredibly supportive.

You’ll soon be able to see the finished work for yourself, as The One And Only Ivan is now less than 24 hours away from its release. Starting tomorrow the movie, which features an outstanding cast including Bryan Cranston, Sam Rockwell, Brooklynn Prince, Angelina Jolie, Danny DeVito, Helen Mirren, Phillipa Soo, and Chaka Khan, will be available to stream exclusively for subscribers on Disney+. Be sure to check it out, and then come back to CinemaBlend, as we’ll have more coverage of the film for you in the days ahead.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.