After Ferdinand, a bull with a big heart is mistaken for a dangerous beast, he is captured and torn from his home. Determined to return to his family, he rallies a misfit team on the ultimate adventure.
Based on the book written by Munro Leaf, ‘The Story of Ferdinand’ (1936) is about a bull who prefers the small pleasures of flowers and butterflies to the gory honor of ‘defeating the matador.’ There have been more than a few children animated films which tread dangerously close to the horrors of how ugly life – and death – can be. An article from “The Atlantic” states:
“Main characters are two-and-a-half times more likely to die in a children’s animated film than in a film for adults—and three times more likely to be murdered.”
“Ferdinand” is another movie that follows this same storyline. But it’s not as simple as Nemo’s mother being eaten by a barracuda. This time it’s more like “Bambi” meets “Gladiator.” True, the death is not onscreen, but be prepared to explain to your children what a bullfight is and why. The “bad guy” here is human culture and this particular aspect of Spanish culture is displayed with confusing ambivalence. Moreno (Raul Esparza) raises the bulls to sell to the matadors, but he doesn’t seem unkind or ugly. The closest he comes to looking like the typical villain is that he has a hook nose. Still, his voice is kind, he is genteel, and with a countryman’s humility, he sends bulls to their death by matador or to the chop shop if they don’t prove to be profitable for the bullfighting business.
Ferdinand (Colin H. Murphy/John Cena) is a young bull growing up on Moreno’s ranch and he admires his big, strong pop who is thrilled to be chosen by a bullfighter. As you might easily guess, Ferdinand’s dad never comes back. In his grief and terror, Ferdinand manages to escape and from there the story is a journey of discovering that he can choose to live a different life. However, it is not without twists and turns and disappointments and his own test of courage to know when to fight and when to sit down and smell the poppies.
The animation is a little weak, not your typical Pixar quality, but it is still enjoyable. The plot is probably the most troubling with the silly tongue-in-cheek “running of the bulls” through the streets of Madrid and the cloud of death by brutality hanging over the story. The casting sounds like a bad joke with John Cena as the grown-up Ferdinand. Why? Because he’s strong and a professional fighter?? It’s almost an oxymoron. Meanwhile, the goat, Lupe (Kate McKinnon), is just a very awkward character and she is so hillbilly and uncouth that it’s hard to really fall in love with her in 90 minutes.
However, there are some fun, silly parts that the kids will enjoy. The hedgehogs are fun prickly little kleptomaniacs and the bulls even have a dance off with some silly German horses, so be sure to look for a little twerking and the “dab.” They are cheap laughs, but the kids won’t care.
Ultimately, my favorite part was probably when Ferdinand is finally forced to face the number one matador, El Primero (Miguel Angel Silvestre), in the ring and how the tables turn between bull and matador. I wish I could say the story could’ve been done better…but I think it’s hard to tell a story for our little humans about “victory” over an aspect of our culture that still exists today and is still revered for seemingly little else other than fun.
In theaters Friday, December 15th