The One And Only Ivan Director and Writer Were Dedicated to Book's Emotional Core

The One and Only Ivan is bringing a popular true story to life on Disney+, dropping on the streaming service over the weekend of August 21. Rounding up some popular talent in front of the camera, many roles called for the voices from the likes of Angelina Jolie, Danny DeVito, Sam Rockwell, or Chaka Khan to be lent to animals in the film. However, behind-the-camera, the creative forces behind the touching story of this animal family and their human counterparts triumphing through difficult times together pulled their favorite elements from the New York Times best selling novel by Katherine Applegate and applied a somewhat new narrative structure to their rollout for filmmaking purposes.

"You have to trust your instincts on what the spirit, and what the real heart behind the story is, " The One and Only Ivan director Thea Sharrock explains to ComicBook.com in the video above. Sharrock had previously helmed Me Before You and The Hollow Crown. "And you need to protect those moments, and protect those relationships, and protect those beats, and protect those thoughts. And then at the same time, be brave about expanding it and making Ivan's world a bit bigger."

As a means to preserve the nature of the story but help it unfold in a format which would be entertaining through cinematic presentation, Sharrock and Ivan movie writer Mike White invented a few characters of their own.

"We brought more characters in, for example," Sharrock explains. "We wanted them to have more of a gang. We have a breakout moment because, visually we wanted him to be able to get out of where he was, so that we know that's just visually more interesting storytelling and more dramatic. We changed the character of Mack, who in the book is quite more of a sort of 2D villain character. And I felt, I didn't wanna fall into animals or goodies, and humans and buddies. You know, I didn't wanna fall into that trap. And so I wanted to make him a more fully rounded character. So you know, throughout, there were a lot of changes that we made."

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(Photo: The One And Only Ivan / Disney+)

Many of the cast members admit they had not read the novel until they were cast in the film. Quickly, they promise, they fell in love with the heartwarming story. For writer Mike White, the movie was never intended to be a direct adaptation but certainly an adaptation which captured the story's emotions.

"I read the book and I wasn't really looking to do a kid's adaptation at the time and then I was just kind of struck by how I was shedding some serious man tears throughout the book It's a very touching and actually it speaks to an almost a more adult sensibility in certain ways," White tells ComicBook.com. "Obviously it speaks to kids, but it really packs a punch kind of book. And so I was like... And the message I thought was actually really cool and a kind of a message that I think was like, wow, Disney has a real platform for this animal rights message, I thought that was cool. So I was like, you know what, I'll try this. But yeah, I think we wanted to stay true to the spirit of the book at the same time, build out the world a little bit, give it more of a plot. There's certain expectations for a movie that the book, it delivers character and emotion, but it needed a little bit more humor plot and just a little bit more propulsion."

Any and all of the changes or adjustments from the book's story were made only after original author Katherine Applegate approved. "She saw the movie, thankfully on a big screen, just before lockdown, and she was absolutely thrilled," Sharock recalls. "And the thing that she said to me was, you've just managed to capture the spirit of the book and hold onto that despite all the changes. So she was absolutely thrilled. And of course, for me that was probably the most important person for me to have seen it."

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