Movie Review: ‘FERDINAND’ – a serviceable, but loose adaptation of the classic bull story

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Jared McMillan // Film Critic

FERDINAND

Rated PG, 106 minutes.
Director: Carlos Saldanha
Cast: John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Bobby CannavaleLily DayDavid TennantAnthony Anderson and Peyton Manning

“The Story of Ferdinand” is probably one of the more famous children’s stories since its initial publication in 1936. The tale of a bull who wants to live his life smelling flowers instead of surviving matadors, it stands the test of time due to its message of staying true to oneself. Aside from the 1938 Oscar-winning short from Walt Disney, there hasn’t been any other adaptation in almost 80 years, which is surprising.

FERDINAND, the latest from the studio that brought you ICE AGE and RIO, manages to maintain the essence of Munro Leaf’s book while being a formulaic, loose adaptation altogether.

The young calf Ferdinand is different from the others, as we watch him navigate the roughhousing calves to water a lone flower in their pen. His father is picked by a famous matador to fight, only he doesn’t return, leaving Ferdinand to run away. He is found by a farmer and looked after by his young daughter, Nina; cue the warm and fuzzy montage as Ferdinand grows up.

Now, Ferdinand (voiced by John Cena) and Nina (voiced by Lily Day) are inseparable, with Ferdinand becoming a massive bull. He’s so big that he accidentally wrecks the village after being stung by a bee. They mistake him for an angry beast and he’s taken away from Nina.

However, he is sent back to where he had escaped, and we’re introduced to the cast of characters that grow from Ferdinand’s heart. Some from his past, like Bones (Anthony Anderson) and Guapo (Peyton Manning), and newer animals like Angus (David Tennant) and Ferdinand’s coach/partner/calming goat named Lupe (Kate McKinnon).

Of course, Ferdinand is left to fend for himself as their home is visited by the greatest matador, El Primero, who is putting on his last show. Pressured to fight or become meat (yes, this is a real thing that is discussed in a kids’ movie), he refuses to succumb to peer pressure. As Ferdinand stays true to his pacifist ways, he changes everyone around him for the better.

FERDINAND is built around the themes that made its source material so wildly popular. While they take several liberties to fulfill the formula (lost parent, fish-out-of-water, etc.), the movie still manages to be charming. Cena, McKinnon and company really seem to be having fun with their roles and making sure their characters have personality and life. The bright animation and scenery gives a positive backdrop to match the titular hero’s sense of wonder.

However, the additional threat of becoming meat as a driving motivation is something that is disturbing given that this is a kid’s movie. A slaughterhouse in the background throws off the jovial mood, which is further heightened by showing the bulls getting hauled off to become meat. It’s dark, unnecessary imagery that doesn’t really add anything to the movie except to set up an escape scene from the slaughterhouse.

Overall, FERDINAND will be a hit with the kids, and the adults will be happy that their kids are happy. It’s just that there is a better movie somewhere in there, and the filmmakers could’ve been brave enough to not conform to the system, much like Ferdinand the bull.

[Grade: C+]

FERDINAND opens nationwide on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.