NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Jeremy

The film starts with the silverback gorilla Ivan (Sam Rockwell) telling the audience about how he is the star attraction for a circus act at the Big Top Mall. He was raised since childhood by Mack (Bryan Cranston), and he performs alongside other animals, like Stella the wise elephant (Angelina Jolie), Snickers the pampered poodle (Helen Mirren), Frankie the neurotic ball-balancing seal (Mike White), Murphy the firetruck-riding rabbit (Ron Funches), wisecracking baseball-playing chicken Henrietta (Chaka Khan), and Mack’s chatty parrot Thelma (Philippa Soo). Ivan’s best friend is a stray dog called Bob (Danny DeVito), whom Mack is always trying to get rid of.

Ivan is the show’s headliner, so he puts on the mean gorilla act to entertain people. He is visited by Julia (Arianna Greenblatt), daughter of Mack’s janitor George (Ramon Rodriguez), and Ivan always enjoys her company, but it’s said that her mom is very sick. Mack comes in and tells Ivan that the circus is losing its audience, and they need to find a good way to bring people back fast. Ivan asks Stella if she thinks he has lost his edge, but she thinks the angry gorilla act is just what the humans want to see.

As Mack is trying to find ideas to save the show, Julia gives Ivan some of her old crayons after he appears to show interest in her drawings. Ivan takes the crayons and a piece of paper to scribble something that he says is a beetle. Bob can’t see it, but when Julia comes back around, she is able to figure out what it is, to Ivan’s delight. Meanwhile, Bob sneaks into Mack’s office to eat out of Snickers’ food bowl, though she doesn’t mind him. She tries to tell Bob in secret that they are getting a new animal, but Bob runs out and tells everyone the news.

Mack introduces everyone to a baby elephant named Ruby (Brooklynn Prince). While most of the animals, in particular Stella, take kindly to Ruby, Ivan is not happy when he learns that Ruby will be the new headliner. She proves to be a big hit with audiences, and business starts to pick up again. However, Stella becomes unable to perform when George and Mack notice that her leg is hurt. After a doctor checks on her, Stella is put aside for the show, leaving Ruby to go on by herself. When she gets too nervous and misses her cue, Ivan and Stella give her encouragement to go out there and show off her act. She does so and entertains another big crowd. Stella tells her a story about how when she was as young as Ruby, she fell into a mud pit and had to be rescued with the help of a girl around Julia’s age.

Later, Ruby asks Ivan to tell her a story, and he tells her about how Mack and his ex-wife Helen (Hannah Bourne) adopted him. Helen could not handle all the damage that Ivan was doing, and she left Mack. He would later go on to purchase the mall and turn it into the circus that it is today.

Stella’s condition worsens, as she cannot put weight on her foot. Soon, she becomes too weak to perform at all. Knowing it is her time, Stella asks Ivan to take care of Ruby, and to promise to find a way to free her so that she doesn’t have to live her life the way Stella did. Ivan promises and holds his friend’s trunk as she passes away.

As everyone mourns Stella, Mack starts to push Ruby to improve her act, which makes him treat her harshly, as well as respond rudely to Julia and George. Ivan starts growling as Mack becomes more aggressive, but it stops when Ruby squirts water at him with her trunk, revealing that he wears a toupee. At the same time, Ivan continues to draw, coming up with a key that he hopes Julia can see to try and get him a key to Ruby’s cage to free her. He tells Bob about his plan, which wakes Ruby up. Ivan then tells her another story about a baby elephant who wants to be free from where she lives, and he tells her that the baby elephant will be free with help from her friend.

Julia finds Ivan’s drawings, which she shows to Mack. He then hatches an idea to show Ivan off as a gorilla who can draw. After selling out of tickets, Mack tries to present Ivan as the artist gorilla, but he just blows a raspberry and walks away from the canvas when the show starts, humiliating Mack.

Later that night, Ivan uses Bob to help him enact his escape plan. They trick a security guard, Castello (Owain Arthur), to take his keys and free Ruby. The other animals go along for the adventure as they flee the mall. Mack finds out the animals got out and he rushes to the mall. The animals go past the woods which they think will lead them to the wilderness, but they discover that the only thing beyond the trees is the rest of the town. Mack ends up finding the animals and he fires Castello.

When they are returned to their enclosures, Ruby asks Ivan to tell her a story about the wilderness as he remembered it. Although a bit reluctant, he recounts how he used to live with his family, including his father and older sister that he called Tag, since they loved to play the game together. He was known as Mud due to always playing in the mud. Sadly, they were separated when poachers invaded their home, and it’s implied that Ivan’s father was killed by them. He keeps a doll called Not-Tag as a reminder of his sister. Ruby tries to reassure Ivan by saying that his father would have loved his drawings too.

Julia can see that Ivan doesn’t want to be there anymore after hearing about how the animals got out. She gives him some old finger paints, which makes Ivan remember using mud to draw on rocks as a child. He spends the whole night painting on the glass where he performs his act. Mack arrives just as reporters show up to film the show after hearing about the possible escape. To everyone’s surprise and amazement, Ivan has painted a mural with trees and a lake to recreate his home. Julia convinces George to let her help Ivan, and she goes to speak to a reporter.

Ivan’s painting becomes a big story as people start to protest for his and Ruby’s freedom. Soon, Mack gives in to their demands and closes the mall and circus for good. After the other animals are taken away, Mack spends time with Ivan in his enclosure one last time to reminisce about their time spent together. Ivan returns the affection, as it is clear that he will also miss Mack. Ivan then goes with a doctor who is set to transport him.

Ivan wakes up in a facility. He appears scared and tries to break out until the doctor opens up a door that reveals he is back in the wild. He finds that he is reunited with other gorillas, and as he looks beyond his area, he sees Ruby is with a herd of elephants not far from him. Ivan looks up at the sky and tells Stella that he kept his promise, and that he and Ruby are now free.

Before the credits roll, there are pictures and texts that detail the true story of the gorilla named Ivan, who was rescued from poachers and brought to America where he was raised by a loving family. When he got too big, he became part of a mall attraction for 27 years until he learned to paint, and the local community protested for Ivan to be moved to a better community. Ivan was taken to Zoo Atlanta with plenty of land to roam across.

Mid-Credits Scene: Julia and George bring Bob, whom they have adopted (and her mom loves having him around), to visit Ivan in his habitat, along with Mack, who is happy to see his old friend.

Post-Credits Scene:
Baby Ivan is shown chasing a beetle, only to get tackled by Tag.

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Ivan is a silverback gorilla who headlines the show at the Big Top Mall, along with a cast of other animal performers. When they start losing business, Ivan’s longtime owner Mack brings in a baby elephant named Ruby to pick things up. While Ivan isn’t too happy about being replaced, he warms up to Ruby.

Ivan’s friend, the wise old elephant Stella, becomes sick and asks Ivan to take care of Ruby and to free her so she won’t live her life in the circus. After Stella dies, Ivan takes care of Ruby. Meanwhile, a human girl named Julia, whose father works for Mack, gives Ivan old crayons, finger paint, and paper to draw, and it turns out he is good at it.

Ivan attempts to break Ruby out to go to the wilderness, but he learns that the only thing beyond the trees near the mall is just more of the city. When Ivan paints a mural of wildlife, the other humans are amazed and rally for his and Ruby’s freedom. Mack has no choice but to shut the show down and let the animals go free. He says goodbye to Ivan and thanks him for his time, and Ivan will miss Mack too.

Ivan is brought to a wildlife reserve with other gorillas, and he ends up close to the elephant reserve where Ruby has been taken to, thereby fulfilling his promise to Stella.