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

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.