The One And Only Ivan (2020) tells a tale of gorillas and it’s bliss.

Arriving on Disney+ will perhaps less controversy than “Mulan” but no less deserving of heralding, “The One And Only Ivan” hearkens back to the golden age of Disney movies of the sixties and seventies which kept Dean Jones so gainfully employed.

The undisputed star of a shopping mall circus, Ivan the gorilla lives a reasonably contented life, well treated by his owner yet secretly yearns for the freedom of the wild. It’s only when Ivan gets his hands on some crayons and paints, though, that he’s able to express himself.

Based loosely on the children’s book by K A Applegate, which itself was based even more loosely on a real-life gorilla who was kept in a shopping mall for twenty-seven years before being adopted by Zoo Atlanta, the most striking thing about “The One And Only Ivan” is that it’s a story without an antagonist. The lack of a villain doesn’t mean a lack of drama though, but it does mean this is a gentle watch, perfect for cosying up on the sofa with the whole family and basking in its heartwarming lack of cynicism. It certainly kept the Craggus household spellbound on the sofa.

Mack (Bryan Cranston), the owner of the Big Top Mall, isn’t the callous, money-grabbing circus owner you may be expecting. Yes, he’s a struggling businessman looking to keep his enterprise afloat but he is kind to the animals in his care and always does the best he can for them and his workers. It’s so against expectations for this kind of story that it almost feels like a deliberate subversion. A wealth of voice talent help bring the animals to life, with Sam Rockwell as Ivan, Angelina Jolie (who also produces) as Stella the elephant, Helen Mirren as Snickers the poodle and Danny DeVito as Bob, a stray dog who becomes Ivan’s secret pet. If that list isn’t enough to impress you, the movie still has an ace up its sleeve: Chaka Khan as a performing Silkie Chicken.

Director Thea Sharrock fills her sophomore feature with warmth and humour, deftly handling her human and digital cast to deliver a seamless fantasy where everyone is kind and wants to do the right thing without the need for dramatic showdowns or manipulated epiphanies. The effects work here is great, with the animals looking photo-realistic without sacrificing the anthropomorphisation needed to allow the animals to emote, avoiding the mistake which blighted the reanimated “The Lion King” so recently.

Sentimental, soothing and utterly wholesome, it may disappoint some by not taking a more polemic stance on issues surrounding animal captivity and the ethics of animal performances but for those seeking a sweet escape from the doom and gloom of the world around them, “The One And Only Ivan” feels like a ninety-minute spirit-soothing safari.