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.

Dumbo – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Dumbo at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

The official Disney site for the movie is unusually boring, offering nothing in the way of engaging content, just static information on the characters along with posters, trailers and photos. This feels like a massive missed opportunity.

Media and Publicity

A closer look at Farrell’s character was released around the same time as the first trailer.

At the same time there was a profile of young star Nico Parker, who talked about her experiences on set and more. Another one followed closer to release while she also showed up on “The Late Show”

DeVito appeared on late night TV to talk about his experiences on-set and was later the subject of his own profile.

First reactions started appearing in mid-March, with many calling it Burton’s most engaging and emotional film in years, as well as his most visually strong and creative. At about that time Green was interviewed about her frequent collaborations with Burton and how she almost passed on getting involved with the project. Working with Burton was also the subject of a feature profile that had most of the primary cast talking about his vision and style.

How the movie differed from the original was the subject of a number of interviews and features like this. Burton spoke about his current role as Disney’s go to director for off-kilter reimaginings while composer Danny Elfman was interviewed about his score and working with Burton again while Farell made an appearance on “Kimmel.”

There were a few clips and featurettes released right at the end of the campaign.


dumbo gif

Picking Up the Spare

DeVito was interviewed again about how he thinks the story of Dumbo continues to be relevant even decades later.

More clips that expanded on scenes from the trailers were released after the movie was in theaters.

Batman Returns (Flashback Marketing)

Tomorrow is Batman Day, the day DC Entertainment established in 2014 as part of the company’s celebration of Batman’s 75th anniversary.

[extreme tim curry in clue voice] I know because I was there.

The day has persisted over the years because…well…he’s Batman. Similar days have been marked for Superman and last year Wonder Woman entered the mix thanks to the combination of both her big screen solo adventure and the character’s own 75th anniversary.

To celebrate both tomorrow’s pop culture holiday and the recently-passed 25th anniversary of its release, today we’re going to turn our attention to one of my favorite movies starring The Dark Knight, 1992’s Batman Returns.

The sequel to the 1989 blockbuster brought back the powerhouse combination of director Tim Burton and star Michael Keaton. In the story, Batman is now well-established in Gotham City. That’s good because the city faces a new threat in the form of Oswald Cobblepot (Danny DeVito), who was abandoned by his wealthy parents as a toddler because his birth defects were too much for them and their haughty lifestyle. Now grown, Cobblebot positions himself as the returning prodigal, anxious help the city and run for mayor. That bid is just a cover, though, for his more devious plans to exact revenge. At the same time, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer), has evolved into a feline-inspired symbol of feminine power after she was killed by her boss Max Shreck (Christoper Walken) and revived by a group of stray cats. While Batman takes on The Penguin, Bruce Wayne begins a flirtatious affair with Kyle until it all comes crashing together at the end.

When I walked out of the movie I turned to my friend Todd and said “Wow…Tim Burton really loves directing snow,” a reference not only to its use in this film but also Edward Scissorhands. In fact, the movie plays much more like what at the time was considered a Tim Burton Film than a Batman movie. With themes touching on the place of outcasts in society, a blue/gray color palette and explorations as to the duality of the human mind, it fits much more neatly with the director’s overall work than the first Batman, which by contrast seems like well-made if slightly generic studio film.

The teaser poster is an amazing piece of promotional artwork. Like the iconic poster for the first film, the primary element is the Bat symbol that bleeds out over the sides of the frame. Instead of the bright yellow and dark black of the first one, this one is covered in windswept snow, showing audiences what the tone of the movie was going to be. The expanded character list isn’t named but only referenced with copy at the top reading “The Bat. The Cat. The Penguin.” It’s simple and it’s stunning, showing the restrained colors that would dominate the movie and telling audiences what they could expect to see.

The theatrical one-sheet arranges the faces in the same order as they were previously listed, with Batman followed by Catwoman followed by Penguin. That allowed a good look at just the kind of characters we were going to be following and clearly signaled to anyone well-versed in Burton’s style that his design aesthetic would be well-represented in the character designs. Catwoman looks fierce in her obviously homemade costume while Penguin looks grotesque, like a twisted version of a fairy tale character. Some of the story, but not much, is conveyed at the bottom with a scene showing dozens of penguins huddled around, all with brightly-colored rockets strapped to their backs. Again, the contrast of the dark scene and the pops of red show that Burton’s unique visuals would dominate the movie.

The trailer opens with Penguin plotting his return to Gotham as we see him walking through the sewers he’s made his home since his exile. Then we see Selina become Catwoman in the wake of her death, becoming an empowered anti-hero. Batman is then the only hope for the city, but he’s consumed with feelings for Catwoman. We see Penguin executing his plans and Batman taking on the circus gang that’s part of that. There are shots of the Batmobile, the Bat-boat and just of Batman punching his way through the guys.

What comes through here is the focus on the villains the movie would take. Penguin and Catwoman are positioned in the trailer as the ones driving the story and whose journeys we’ll be following. Batman is the hero, yes, but he’s seen here as almost a side character who’s only interesting as he relates to the other two.

That’s…well, it’s not exactly accurate because Bruce Wayne plays a big part in the stories of both characters, one that’s bigger than what he does as Batman, but we don’t see that here. Instead we’re focusing on the twisted personalities that drive Batman’s adversaries. That, on the other hand, is pretty accurate to the movie that’s being sold. Burton, in his second outing, was not able to more fully integrate his design sense but also give outlet to his love of the outsiders, the characters shunned by society because of their differences. It’s that message that’s sold loudly and strongly in the trailer, that we’ll be watching a Tim Burton film with comic book characters as the medium for his worldview.

As has been well-documented by others, the superhero cinematic genre learned exactly the wrong lesson from Batman Returns. The takeaway was a simplistic “more villains” approach to sequels, something that’s sunk more than one movie. In reality, what Burton did was use characters he identified with to explore the topics that were near to his heart. That goes for Batman as much as it does for Catwoman and Penguin. Everyone here, as Selina says at point, is struggling with their own “difficulty with duality.”

While the campaign may not get that deep, it does present the movie as both an action-filled blockbuster and a study of characters who all walk the line between the light and the dark.

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