2017, PG, 106 min. Directed by Carlos Saldanha. Voices by John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Bobby Cannavale, Lily Day, Juanes, Raúl Esparza.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 15, 2017
Adapted from the mid-Thirties children’s book, Blue Sky Studios takes the central plot of author Munro Leaf’s 32-page kid-lit classic and expands it into a brightly hued and sporadically amusing mediocrity. Blue Sky’s track record thus far has been above average – the Ice Age series, Rio – and while Ferdinand isn’t a train wreck by any means, it does come off as an also-ran in a year now dominated by the truly marvelous Coco. Screenwriters Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle, and Brad Copeland over-stuff the otherwise heartfelt production with far too many subplots, tired barnyard shenanigans, and gags that simply don’t generate the yuks, much less the occasional chuckle.
Cena voices the titular young bull who makes a break for freedom and flowers after learning that his father has exited the world via the matadore’s banderillas in Madrid’s bullfighting stadium. Wise move, that, considering the ritualized slaughter of countless bulls for popular entertainment over the centuries. Ferdinand doesn’t cover the gruesome outcome of such man-on-beast battles – this is a kids’ film, after all – but director Saldanha nevertheless places the plight of Ferdinand over the unctuous matador and the bloodthirsty crowds. If Morrissey had kids, he’d likely make them watch Ferdinand for the subtext alone.
Speaking of, Ferdinand the conscientious objector only wants to wallow in the vivid and fragrant flowers that blossom all over the flower-seller’s farm where he ends up. Pint-sized Nina (Day) adopts the runaway bull until, of course, Ferdinand follows her and her father into town and literally ends up as the proverbial bull in a china shop. (That’s one of the film’s best and most imaginative sequences, actually.) Ultimately, Ferdinand is captured and forced into the ring against his will: hoary slapstick chaos and life lessons ensue. Ferdinand doesn’t really do justice to its evergreen and far less cluttered source material, but if the matinee of Coco’s sold out, you could do worse than this presumably PETA-approved animation.