Adventure Animation

'Ferdinand' Film Review: Blue Sky Studios' latest animated feature is no bull

December 13, 2017Siobhán Finn

Some people look like they're born to excel in the ring, but deep down they would really prefer a safer, more pastoral life away from the violence. In a stroke of casting brilliance, WWE superstar John Cena stars in Blue Sky Studios' latest animated feature, Ferdinand, about a bull who proves that just because you're a big guy, it doesn't mean you're a fighter.

Even as a young bull in Casa del Toro, Ferdinand failed to see the appeal of fighting in Madrid's legendary bullfighting ring. Consequently, the young calf is bullied for his pacifism by the other bulls who all dream of the glory of being selected by the famous matador, El Primero. After his father's death, however, Ferdinand escapes and soon finds himself on Juan and Nina's flower farm. Surrounded by flowers and young Nina's unquestioning love for the growing bull, Ferdinand romps around the farm, much to the disgust of the family dog, Paco (Jerrod Carmichael).

After a disastrous visit to the local town, Ferdinand is forcibly shipped back to Casa del Toro — the one place he fears more than anything else — where he is still the odd bull out, despite now being much larger than even his former nemesis, Valiente (Bobby Cannavale). Desperate to return to Nina, Ferdinand teams up with a goat and a trio of hedgehogs to plan a great escape.

Cena does a terrific job as Ferdinand, but the kudos go to the movie's supporting cast. While many will devote column inches to Kate McKinnon, who plays Lupe the goat, the real heroes are Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs and Gabriel Iglesias as the delightful hedgehogs, Uno, Dos and Cuatro. Whereas McKinnon's in-your-face attempt to be this year's Olaf (Frozen's ubiquitous snowman sidekick) becomes tiresome long before her screen time expires, Rodriguez, Diggs and Iglesias need their own spinoff film — one with the German Lipizzaners, Hans, Greta and Klaus, as their foils.

At its heart, Ferdinand carries a strong message about anti-bullying and a reminder about the importance of being true to oneself, no matter what the world thinks. An animation veteran with a résumé that includes both the Ice Age and Rio franchises, director Carlos Saldanha knows how to keep children enthralled without resorting to base humor. And although the movie is set within the inherently violent world of bull fighting, parents will be glad to know that both he and screenwriters Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle and Brad Copeland keep the violence mostly off-screen.

Based on the 1936 book Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson, this peaceful bull has a strong history on the big screen. Disney's 1938 short of the same name won the Oscar for Best Animated Short and Blue Sky's full-length version has already garnered two Golden Globe nominations, including Best Animated Feature and Best Song for Nick Jonas' "Home."

That said, when planning a film about a bull, there is only one scene audiences will be expecting. And rest assured, even though Ferdinand does indeed make his way to a china shop, that is where the predictability ends. With bright animation that suits the movie's Spanish setting, Ferdinand exceeds expectations and will likely do well in the long run at the box office, despite opening to some stiff competition this week.

Ferdinand releases December 15th, 2017 from 20th Century Fox. The film has an MPAA rating of PG for rude humor, action and some thematic elements. Its runtime is 1 hr. 46 min.

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