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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Carlos Saldanha Films
Rio, I Love You
All set in Rio de Janeiro, this is a collection of short films

Marjorie Baumgarten, May 6, 2016

Rio 2
The animated blue macaw family takes a trip back to the Amazon.

Louis Black, April 18, 2014

More by Marc Savlov
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
The Prince is dead, long live the Prince

Aug. 7, 2022

Green Ghost and the Masters of the Stone
Texas-made luchadores-meets-wire-fu playful adventure

April 29, 2022


Ferdinand, Carlos Saldanha

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle