The One and Only Ivan – Marketing Recap

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.

The Posters

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.

The Trailers

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.

Picking Up The Spare

Another featurette focused on the translation of the book to the screen. 

The movie’s VFX team was interviewed about how they made the graphics production as seamless and efficient as possible. 

Ads have been running on YouTube like the one below driving people to Disney+. 

Charlie Puth put out a video for a song written by Diane Warren that’s featured in the movie. 

One more promo for the film now that it’s available for streaming by subscribers.

The Upside – Marketing Recap

the upside posterKevin Hart departs from his usual brand of comedy – one that involves him making a lot of short jokes and acting nervously hyper – to costar in The Upside along with Bryan Cranston. Hart plays Dell, a former convict who is trying to find work and turn his life around.

An opportunity arises when he becomes the personal assistant to Philip (Cranston), a quadriplegic who hires Dell to help him move through the world. Unlike Dell, Philip is extremely wealthy and has the means to do so. The clash between the two eventually gives way to something more friendly as they each see value in the lessons they other has to offer.

The Posters

One of the first bits of promotional imagery was repurposed for the first poster, with Hart riding on the back of Cranston’s wheelchair. There’s not much more to say about it as the main point here is just to show the very basic notion of the relationship between the two characters while offering no other information about the story.

The Trailers

Dell is having trouble finding work in the first trailer, eventually happening across a position as the physical aid for a wealthy quadriplegic. He’s wholly unqualified, but gets the job anyway, learning what kind of help Phillip needs on a daily basis and enjoying the benefits of the lifestyle he’s found himself in the middle of. They bond and find that, beyond the physical needs, the two have a lot to offer each other in the form of new emotions, new experiences and more.

There’s a tendency here to play up some of Hart’s more comedic moments so as to show this isn’t a complete departure from the kind of movie he’s best known for. Overall, though, there’s a superficial and not all that intriguing story being sold here that seems to play into some notable cliches and tropes.

Online and Social

Only a small amount of content and information about the movie is offered on its official website, just the trailer and a synopsis. There were also Instagram, Twitter and Facebook profiles created by STX. On Twitter in particular the studio shared some funny GIFs and clips to help tie to the movie to Hart’s brand of humor.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

The first paid effort was a promoted Tweet that used a short video to sell the movie to the public. A couple TV spots followed closer to release that focused on the friendship between the two characters and one on the working dynamic they share. Short videos were also used as pre-roll spots.

Media and Publicity

Originally titled The Intouchables it was later renamed to be, as with other such movies, as boring and generic as possible. The Weinstein Co. took the movie to the Toronto International Film Festival, where it accumulated some decent reviews that praised the chemistry between Hart and Cranston. It was there that the Weinsteins announced they would do some schedule changing to release it in time to qualify for this year’s awards season, with a wider release coming months later.

Unfortunately it was subsequently pulled from the release schedule completely due to all the drama within TWC as well as the fact that TWC always pulls every movie from release at some point because it doesn’t have the capital to support it. It was eventually picked up by STX Entertainment, partnering with Lantern to save the movie from oblivion.

The announcement that Hart would host this year’s Academy Awards ceremony gave the movie a nice conversational bump, even if the broadcast itself won’t be for a month after it opens. Much of that was undone in the following 24 hours, though, as people took him to task for old homophobic Tweets, leading him to drop out as host, only apologizing for what he’d said after the fact.

Hart and Cranston each spoke in a featurette where they talked about working with each other and telling a true story like this. Director Neil Burger appeared in another where he talked about the divide the characters must cross to relate to each other.

A couple interviews with Cranston had him focusing on playing a character with disabilities, something that other actors have recently come under fire for. His response to that, unfortunately, isn’t great and only served to pour gasoline on the fire.


Any and all stories about how this might be a contender to dethrone Aquaman from the top of the box office are ridiculous. Even if it weren’t the case that the movie had been collecting dust for over a year because of unrelated problems it just gives off the vibe of being a project no one should be thrilled with, the very definition of the cast-off January release. It features actors who are better than the material in roles that are rooted in terrible stereotypes, all supported by a marketing campaign that isn’t sure what kind of movie its selling.

Picking Up the Spare

A new clip and TV spot were released in the days leading up to the movie hitting theaters. More commercials like this came later that touted the movie’s status at the top of the box-office following opening weekend.

Hart also finally made some media appearances, but a lot of that was dominated by the ongoing conversation about whether or not he was hosting the Oscars and what kind of opinions he had on people. Cranston did likewise.

Great piece by Variety’s Rebecca Rubin on the ways the filmmakers turned things around and managed to overcome the disadvantages the movie faced.

Interesting details here on how STXfilms used targeted advertising to run a paid campaign contingent on guaranteed ticket sales and ad effectiveness.

Last Flag Flying – Marketing Recap

The emotional trauma and bonds of brotherhood that results from experiences in war are explored in the new movie Last Flag Flying. Written and directed by Richard Linklater, the movie stars Steve Carell as a man who learns his son, who followed his example and joined the Marines, has died in the Iraq War in 2003.

Before setting out on the trip to claim his son’s remains for burial, Larry (Carell) tracks down and enlists the help of two of his closest friends from their time in the service, Richard (Laurence Fishburne) and Sal (Bryan Cranston). Larry doesn’t just want to be there for his son’s return but wants to take him back to his hometown for burial, eschewing – to the surprise of most – a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

The Posters

The three friends stand together on the first poster, Larry clutching the folded flag he received upon retrieving his son’s body. That clearly conveys to the audience that death, as well as friendship, is at the center of the story. The friendship angle is reinforced by the copy that reads “Their last mission wasn’t on the battlefield.”

The Trailers

We meet Sal and Larry as the trailer opens, with them having taken some sort of impromptu road trip and go find Mueller. All three were buddies in the Marines back in the day and Larry’s son, who did likewise, has been killed. The Corps wants to bury him at Arlington, but Larry wants to bring him home, so his friends join in the effort, despite the obstacles.

So it’s being sold as a road trip movie featuring three reunited old friends. What sets this apart from other movies that have had similar stories is the talent and charisma of the three leads as well as the emotional story. This isn’t a crazy comedy where there will be at least three Viagra jokes, the trailer promises, it will be a drama about family, grieving and your duty to old friends.

It should also be noted that for as many times as I’ve watched this trailer, I still well up every damn time. It’s the music. It’s the story. It’s the stoic grief. It’s…yeah.

Online and Social

Load up the official website and the trailer starts playing in case you need a good cry this morning. Once it closes you get a recreation of the key art of the three actors looking somberly at the camera. There’s a prompt to get tickets on the page while at the bottom are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Moving on to the content menu at the top of the page, “Synopsis” offers a brief write-up of the story. Skipping over “Videos,” which just has the trailer, next up is the “Gallery,” where you can check out a number of production stills.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Some online and social advertising was done around the release of the trailer as well as in the last week using the trailer, short clips or variations on the key art.

While I couldn’t find them online, it does seem some TV advertising was done recently, with the movie’s Twitter account sharing a photo of a commercial that apparently aired during one of this past weekend’s World Series broadcasts.

Media and Publicity

News broke back in June that the movie would get a high-profile debut by screening at this year’s New York Film Festival, where it went on to garner decent praise and buzz and where Linklater talked about it briefly, including praising Amazon Studios for helping him to make the movie after a decade of false starts.

Shortly after the first trailer debuted and while the movie was screening at festivals Linklater talked about finally making a movie about grown-ups, how time spent with friends inspired some of the story and more.

While at NYFF, Fishburne addressed how the intent was not to tie the movie to anything overtly political happening at the moment but to tell the story of a father doing what he can to grieve for and honor his dead son. Linklater made similar comments, saying the story would have played out the same even if Hillary Clinton was currently occupying the White House.

Where the movie falls in Cranston’s career was the primary subject of this feature interview as well as how he decides what roles to take, regardless of how they might be viewed by others.

Cranston and Carell have made a few media appearances in recent weeks and will likely be making more in the coming days as we get close to release.


Amazon Studios’ campaign isn’t massive, possibly because it follows just a week after the release of Wonderstruck, for which there was a much more comprehensive and general push. That’s not to say it hasn’t put a solid or committed effort together, just that the lack of additional paid efforts and a more subdued publicity campaign adds up to signal that this is a movie it doesn’t think will have the widespread appeal of that other movie.

While the volume may not be quite what we’ve seen for other movies, the emotions here are the real selling point. Everything about the campaign wants you to feel Larry’s conviction, determination and stubbornness deeply, mostly be experiencing them through the filter of Sal and Richard. Linklater has underscored this in interviews, but there really isn’t anything political in the campaign. It’s just about a father who wants to do right by his son and needs the emotional and other help of two men he’s always been able to count on. It’s not taking a stance on the war or anything, it’s just about dealing with a tragedy no parent should have to face in the most manageable way he can.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.