Written by American author Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson, the popular children’s book, “Ferdinand,” finally receives a big screen adaptation. Set in Spain, FERDINAND tells the heart-warming story about a lovable bull who would rather smell the flowers than fight in the bullfights.
Ferdinand is considered an unusual bull because he has different desires than what others expect from him. While all the other bulls find it to be an honor to be chosen to fight against the great matador in the grand arena, Ferdinand prefers a simpler life of sitting under a tree, enjoying the sweet scent of a lovely blossom. Unfortunately, the sight of a giant beast is much too scary for most people to understand the gentler nature within. Thankfully, while he is still a young calf, Ferdinand meets a kind little girl named Nina and her father who take him in as their own. Sadly, when Ferdinand grows to be full grown, he is stripped from his family and sent to a ranch where the bulls have two choices, fight or be sent to the chop house (yeah, it’s pretty dark stuff). Ferdinand must rally a misfit group of bulls and other ranch animals to make a great escape back to his human family.
My wife and I decided FERDINAND would be our three-year old daughter’s first theatrical experience. She is a funny, bright young girl, who loves her books (she insisted on bringing her copy of Ferdinand) and never loses focus during any movie. To be honest, I had hoped to watch her face as she saw the images come to life for the first time on such a large screen. To my surprise, she preferred to sit on her daddy’s lap (I can’t complain about that). My daughter asks a lot of questions and was not afraid to ask plenty straight from the get go – “Is that Ferdinand as a baby? Is that his daddy? Why is he running away?” or sometimes she would tell us, “That’s Ferdinand as a baby. That bull is mean. Ferdinand is sad.” She laughed and at one particularly tense point even let out a blood-curdling, high-pitched scream.
I tell this story to say, I think kids are going to love it and unlike some animated films, FERDINAND is suitable for the very little ones. Yes, there are some dark topics (“What’s a chop house?”), but the film manages to touch on these topics without dwelling on them.
At an hour and 46 minutes, FERDINAND could have easily shaved off about 15 sagging minutes in the middle. There are a couple of great gags with a literal bull in a china shop and a dance off between some bulls and a snooty trio of horses. Wrestler John Cena delivers a remarkable performance voicing tender-hearted Ferdinand. Likewise, current SNL superstar Kate McKinnon is hilarious as the silly calming goat who dreams of training Ferdinand as a fighter. Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning (yes, that guy from all the commercials who use to play football), David Tennant, Juanes, Gabriel Iglesias, Daveed Diggs, and Gina Rodriguez fill in many of the other wacky supporting characters.
Blue Sky Studios once again collaborates with their long time director Carlos Saldanha (ICE AGE, RIO) to deliver a family friendly film with plenty of great messages. FERDINAND teaches many positive lessons about teamwork, accepting differences, love, kindness, and not to judge a book by its cover.
In what I would consider a down year for Disney/Pixar and animated films in general, FERDINAND might be the best of the bunch. Already nominated for two Golden Globes (Best Animated Picture and Best Original Song), it has dark horse Oscar chances that might be more promising than expected. The Original song, “Home” is easily a strong contender as the year’s most uplifting tune.
While it’s nowhere near a perfect kid’s movie, (they can’t all be MOANA), FERDINAND might be the best animated film this year. When I asked Caroline what her favorite part was, she replied, “all of it.” Then after some thought, she said, “I liked it when they were all driving through the city, getting away fast like Baby Driver.” Clearly she has great taste.