How Disney is selling a sweet story that adds talking animals to a true story.
The One and Only Ivan, debuting on Disney+ after being shunted from theaters to the streaming platform earlier this year, is based on author K. A. Applegate’s young adult novel of the same name. In the story, a gorilla named Ivan (voiced by Sam Rockwell) teams up with an elephant (voiced by Angela Jolie) and a dog (voiced by Danny DeVito) to figure out where they came from before winding up at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade under the care of Mack (Bryan Cranston).
Their journey to discover their past and leave the Big Top Mall is prompted by the arrival of a baby elephant (voiced by Brooklynn Prince), who has been abused in the past and who the others seek to protect. Together they plan an escape, but to what is unclear.
Disney’s campaign for the film has featured many of the earmarks of a full-fledged theatrical release, the byproduct of those original plans, while selling a generally positive and funny film for all ages.
A caravan of animals is seen in silhouette against a paintbrush-hewn sunset sky on the poster (by marketing agency Concept Arts), released in early July. The names of the primary cast are shown against that same sky, with those two elements making up the primary selling points presented to the audience here along with the date of the streaming debut.
That same waterbrush style was used on a series of character posters that came out just last week in mid-August. On each one, a different animal looks out from the frame created by those painted lines, with the character and actor name featured at the top.
As the first trailer (1.3 million views on YouTube), released in July, begins, Ivan is a playful young gorilla playing with his family in the jungle. But then he’s brought to human civilization by Mack, who makes him the centerpiece of a circus. Ivan is asked to be fearsome but is really peaceful and nostalgic for the family he hasn’t seen for years. When everyone discovers Ivan’s more sensitive – and artistic – side, a journey begins to reunite him with his family.
Online and Social
It doesn’t look like Disney created any standalone sites or profiles for the movie, but it did give it decent promotion on its brand social channels.
Advertising and Promotions
Disney announced in mid-June that the movie was being pulled from the theatrical release and instead would debut on Disney+ a week after it was initially planned.
A special behind the scenes featurette came out in early August offering a bit of background on the characters and story.
About the same time a short commercial was released that cuts down the story to make it look fun and silly and heartwarming.
The first clip from the film came out earlier this month, showing Mack getting very excited over the potential of a gorilla who can draw.
Another clip shows the animals in mid-escape, but taking a moment to have a good laugh.
A later commercial continues to present the film as a lighthearted and fun romp involving some goofy talking animals.
The cast gets another opportunity to talk about their excitement about participating in the film in a featurette released this week.
Media and Press
Cranston appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about the movie and the story that inspired it.
There were a few other appearances and interviews by Jolie and some of the rest of the cast, but the pre-release publicity cycle seems to have been relatively low-key.
There’s nothing wrong with the campaign, but it comes off a little…trite. That’s mostly because there seems to be something of a disconnect between the movie’s logline – which emphasizes how Ivan and his group of friends seems to be prompted by the arrival of a baby elephant to protect it – and the theme of the campaign, which presents a slightly silly story about goofy animals who talk to each other.
That could create some confusion in the audience when reviews start hitting and when people are able to view it themselves. But honestly the odds are likely low that what’s presented as lighthearted fun gets into territory that’s seriously dark.