Ferdinand (2017) / Animation-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG for rude humor, action and some thematic elements
Running Time: 108 min.
Cast (voices): John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Bobby Cannavale, Jerrod Carmichael, Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning, Lily Day, Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, Gabriel Iglesias, Miguel Angel Silvestre
Small role (voices): Jeremy Sisto, Juanes
Director: Carlos Saldanha
Screenplay: Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle, Brad Copeland (based on the book, "The Story of Ferdinand", by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson)
Review published December 24, 2017
John Cena (Sisters, Daddy's Home) voices the voice of a pacifist bull named Ferdinand, who manages to escape a life slated to be either a victim in the bull-fighting arena in Spain, or to become meat for someone's dinner table. He's raised very happily by a family in the countryside where he can do much of what he loves, especially sniffing the flowers growing in the area. However, he ends up getting captured when he strays too far from home and right back to the ranch where his mass makes him a prime candidate to take on the toreros in the ring. A love and nit a fighter, Ferdinand and friends want to escape their existence before their untimely fate befalls them.
Blue Sky Studios continues making light and colorful family animated adventures of "good enough" proportions, and Ferdinand emerges as another competent but not exactly inspired entry in their lucrative filmography. It's certainly a likeable film, with very cute anthropomorphic characters, decent (and very eclectic) voice acting, a handful of amusing moments, and a story that, while beefed up (no pun intended) from its original children's book origin, is told well, even if the film runs on the longer side, especially since the Oscar-winning Disney animated short from 1938, "Ferdinand the Bull", essentially tells the story in just a little over seven minutes).
There is always the potential for getting too dark and distasteful with material in which the fate of all of the characters that kids will come to know and like are either to end up gored in front of thousands of humans cheering on their deaths, or to get ripped apart at the slaughter house. Watching this in a theater with my five-year-old daughter, there were a few times where she became mildly distressed, one to the point of tears, at what might happen to Ferdinand and friends, but I will give the creative team kudos for not shying away from this darker subject matter, and for finding a way to make it not too overbearing such as to lose the mirthful tone of the overall story. (If you're seeing this in UK cinemas, you're getting a much milder cut that has removed a good deal of this in order to get a 'U' rating).
Interestingly enough, despite having the platform to make this an 'issues film', the story only subtly suggests that this abuse of animals is wrong only in that we come to feel for them before they are in mortal danger. There isn't any overt stance taken against bullfighting or processing of beef cute, but it takes a hard heart not to feel like these acts may be morally reprehensible given where out sympathies lie. Instead, the film is more about the individual right to not have to feel like one must be a part of what society dictates they should be, and also the wrongs of societal expectations and demands imposed toward individuals based on who they are at birth, especially in the way some bully them into conforming to those norms if they choose for themselves.
Despite a formulaic approach, there are some highlights, including a literal "bull in a china shop" sequence that offers some amusement. There's also verbal sparring with a trio of snooty Viennese Lipizzaners who taunt the bulls for not being good enough to be allowed on their side of the electrified fence. As for the rest, there is a lot of madcap antics, including a dance-off, extended action sequences, and lots of pun-filled interaction with cute but superfluous side characters to try to beef up the comedy quotient, some of which is clever, and some of which is unoriginal (Kate McKinnon's (Ghostbusters) character of Lupe the energetic chatterbox calming goat seems mostly inspired (or ripped off) from Ellen Degeneres's Dory in Finding Nemo.)
While it does stoke my deep-rooted cynicism as an adult for the capacity of humans to exact vicious cruelty toward animals (and each other), Ferdinand emerges as a heart-warming tale that entertains younger viewers without babying them, even though the style of characterizations, the zaniness in the low-reaching jokes, and the animation style are nothing very new in the realm of modern 3D animation.
-- There is a short extra scene in the middle of the end credits.
©2017 Vince Leo