The tale of Ferdinand, a giant bull who prefers flowers to fighting, has captured the hearts of millions since it was first told in the 1936 book “The Story of Ferdinand” by author Munro Leaf and illustrator Robert Lawson. Now a new generation of moviegoers can enjoy a delightful CG-animated family film inspired by the classic story from 20th Century Fox Animation and Blue Sky Studios.
The movie “Ferdinand,” directed by Academy Award nominee Carlos Saldanha, creator and director of the “Rio” series and director of many of the “Ice Age” movies, centers on the adventures of a peace-loving bull (voiced by John Cena). His idyllic life changes after he’s mistaken for a vicious beast and is taken away to the last place on earth he wants to be, a bull training camp. But Ferdinand is determined to get back home. Along the way, the kindhearted bull makes many friends and changes the lives of those he meets.
The treatment of the story in this animated film version was very juvenile, a bit too sweet and sentimental at times. Scriptwriters Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle and Brad Copeland weaved into the central plot several wacky misadventures of the main character and his friends to make it appealing to kids.
Carlos Sandanha, the Brazilian director of a number of Blue Sky’s biggest hits like “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” (2012) and both “Rio” films, told this important story of non-violence with a kind yet assured touch and silly sense of humor which audiences young and old will appreciate.
It was an unexpected but inspired choice to have WWE professional wrestler John Cena give his voice to gentle Ferdinand. It was a most pleasant surprise to say the least to find that out after watching the film. His job as a wrestler parallels that of Ferdinand in that he is expected to fight, whether he likes it or not.
Kate McKinnon voiced Lupe, an old she-goat that befriends Ferdinand, with her signature wisecracking style. Bobby Cannavale voiced Valiente, the bull that bullies Ferdinand, with his signature gangster style. Broadway star Raul Esparza voiced Moreno, the owner of Casa del Toro, where young bulls train to become fighting bulls. While this was another surprising choice of voice, it was too bad that Esparza did not sing.
The topic about bullfighting — a very violent Spanish tradition that involves deadly abuse of an animal — is certainly a very serious matter for a children’s film to tackle. For me, that scene at the bullring (in the iconic Las Ventas arena in Madrid) was when the whole film woke up for me. The director may have tried to lighten the mood with incidental comedy, but the scariness (and senselessness) of bullfights was still there to drive home the point. 7/10