'The One and Only Ivan': The Book The Disney+ Movie is Based On

Disney+ has another hit on its hands in the form of The One and Only Ivan, the story of a gorilla who lives in captivity in a mall starring Bryan Cranston and the voices of Sam Rockwell, Angelina Jolie and Danny DeVito. Though the movie is very Disney, complete with talking animals, it is in fact based on a fiction book. That novel, written by Animorphs creator K.A. Applegate, was itself inspired by the true story of a gorilla named Ivan, who lived in a circus-themed mall for nearly three decades, and whose pictures appear during the credits of the movie.

"I read a piece about Ivan in the New York Times, I'd say almost 20 years ago," Applegate told Publishers Weekly, "I cut out the article and tossed it in a box with a million other story ideas."

Asked what it was about Ivan's story that inspired her to write The One and Only Ivan, she added, "I found his story so heartbreaking, and I followed it in the media over the next few years, waiting to see what happened.

"Ivan had been isolated in the mall for 27 whole years, and people finally began to understand that animals in captivity require the presence of others of their kind."

The author released her book in 2012, the same year that Ivan died at the age of 50 in an Atlanta zoo, 18 years after being removed from the mall.

the one and only ivan book
'The One and Only Ivan' Disney+ movie is based on the book of the same name. Disney+

The novel is written from the point of view of Ivan, perhaps explaining why Disney decided to have the animals talk to each other in the Disney+ movie. At the start of the book, he has been in captivity for 9,855 days—27 years exactly.

Though inspired by the true story, Applegate turns it into a fictional work by inventing a number of characters, like elephant Stella (voiced by Jolie), stray dog Bob (DeVito) and baby elephant Ruby (Brooklynn Prince). The book also moves the action from the real B&I department store in Tacoma to the fictional Exit 8 Big Top Mall.

This is not the only change Applegate made to the story. In her book (SPOILERS AHEAD) the mall closes down after animal rights investigators respond to protests. In reality, the owners of the gorilla donated him to a Seattle zoo after national pressure, and he was permanently loaned to Atlanta that same year. Then, in spring 1995, he was moved to their African rainforest section—the first time Ivan had been outside since 1967.

The novel also ends fairly soon after Ivan and some of his animal friends move together to a zoo. His real-life, meanwhile, would go on for nearly 20 more years. During this time, it was noted that he always had closer relationships with his human keepers than his fellow gorillas, a possible reaction to his life behind glass where his only interactions were with his owners and the shoppers in the mall.

In an NPR interview, Applegate revealed that she never actually got to meet Ivan. She said: "I tried to meet Ivan. I went to the zoo. I took my 13-year-old daughter—she was about 10 at the time—and it was a very wet day. Ivan hated wet weather, and he never came out...But at the end of the day I realized this guy actually had some control over his environment. In the old days would he have been able to...make a choice like that... it was really validating." In that interview, she also revealed that she went to the real gorilla's memorial service.

The One and Only Ivan is streaming now on Disney+.