Can a gorilla ape Banksy? That’s the setup of Disney’s new animal rights flick, “The One and Only Ivan,” impressed by the true story of a silverback gorilla who spent 27 years intimidating kids at a shopping center in Tacoma, Wash. In the movie, he turns into politicized over his imprisonment and expresses his outrage by artwork. Directed by Thea Sharrock and primarily based on Okay.A. Applegate’s Newbery Award-winning guide of the similar title, this retelling is sweet candy in contrast with the actual Ivan’s cameo in the 1991 documentary “The Urban Gorilla,” which turned him right into a 500-pound trigger célèbre. This computer-animated Ivan is ready to converse for himself (in the voice of Sam Rockwell). As authorized efforts in Germany, Argentina and the Balearic Islands have established precedents that would make primate personhood a future civil rights struggle, what’s the movie’s ratio of fiction to truth? We reply this and different questions beneath.
Ivan resents the stereotype that silverback gorillas are indignant chest-thumpers. Are silverbacks actually the most violent gorilla species?
First, silverbacks aren’t a species. Silverback is a literal description for a male gorilla whose black fur has begun to show grey on his shoulders and backbone, which occurs round the wizened age of 13. Yet, whereas calling a human a “graybeard” or a “blue hair” is an insult, “silverback” is synonymous with “alpha.” In gorilla society, age equals standing. Instead of reaching for the hair dye, a silverback enjoys the adoration of a harem of females, whereas lonely youthful males skulk in exile. A silverback will struggle rival troops and juvenile punks seeking to seize energy, however he’s no specific risk to people.
Right, Ivan grows up liking his proprietor, Mack (Bryan Cranston), who takes him to the drive-in to see Disney-branded films like “Robin Hood.” So in the ’70s, you would simply undertake a gorilla?
In 20 states, you still can — if you get a permit. (Please don’t.) Baby gorillas weren’t as victimized by the primate craze of the ’60s and ’70s as chimpanzees and bonobos, when infant apes were raised like children by well-meaning scientists. Once grown, the confused animals were shipped to zoos and sanctuaries, where their own kind rejected them as socially awkward geeks. (Seek out the fantastic documentary “Project Nim” for the full tragedy.) “The One and Only Ivan” recognizes the Stockholm syndrome that arises when an intelligent animal bonds with its captor, in the absence of its own species. While the film gives its star a happy ending, the actual Ivan struggled to acclimate to his fellow gorillas at a zoo. Despite his prestigious silver fur, he was mocked or, at best, ignored, by females while caretakers gossiped about how rarely he got to mate. Primates raised in human homes also pick up human vices like junk food and alcohol; Ivan fiended for cigarettes. (Don’t worry, parents. Here, he’s only addicted to finger paints.)
Ivan wants Mack’s circus to make more money. Do gorillas understand economics?
Probably. Primates do understand currency. Chimpanzees have been educated to value 100-yen coins, which they exchange for apples. Capuchins introduced to tokens quickly learn to budget, gamble and plot a bank heist (in addition to reinventing the oldest profession). And once wild Indonesian macaques realized inedible objects hold value to humans, they schemed to steal hats, sunglasses and cameras, which they would ransom for crackers.
Those aren’t gorillas, though. Gorillas are great apes — shouldn’t they be smarter than a macaque?
Probably. Evidence is harder to obtain. Lethargic and less motivated by food rewards, gorillas are the bright slacker in the back of the class who refuses to take the quiz. For instance, while orangutans, bonobos, chimps and human babies have all passed the mirror test — the ability to recognize oneself in a flat image — gorillas are graded inconclusive. Their paranoia of aggressive eye contact makes them refuse to look in a mirror at all. The fictional Ivan’s ability to recognize his image on billboards and TV is singular, with one celebrity exception: Koko the gorilla, who snapped her own self-portrait in a mirror, a photo that became the cover of National Geographic. However, Koko’s achievements have proven to be singular and suspicious.
Fine. But can gorillas really paint?
Absolutely. So can cats, dogs, dolphins, horses, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, meerkats, squirrels, bats, lemurs, pigs, parrots, turtles, sea lions, snakes and cockroaches. While gorillas have not been observed to paint with mud in nature, as Ivan does here — and his climatic masterpiece, which recalls Van Gogh’s “Wheatfield With Crows,” is unparalleled — zoos have discovered that every creature is a budding artist, once there’s a brush in their mouth or ink on their feet. This explosion of animal-made abstract art — which might be likened more to the work of Franz Kline, Joan Mitchell and Wassily Kandinsky than that of Picasso or Pollock — is good for zoos’ gift shops. But is a gorilla consciously creative? Yes, in the case of (once again) Koko and her companion Michael, who both used sign language to give their works descriptive titles like “Bird,” “Toy Dinosaur,” “Stink Gorilla More” and “Pink Pink Stink Nice Drink.”