Despite being a bull, Ferdinand’s story is relatable to many of us. Growing up, he’s weighed down by the expectation to be a tough and competitive fighting bull just like his friends and all the other bulls raised in Case del Toro. But Ferdinand is different from everybody else. He doesn’t dream of becoming a champion like his dad, or becoming the matador’s next worthy opponent like his ranch buddies. Instead, he likes smelling flowers and if given a choice, he’d rather be the “champion of not fighting”.
Based on the 1936 children’s picture book by Munro Lead and Robert Lawson, “The Story of Ferdinand”, Carlos Saldanha’s “Ferdinand” tells the story of a peace-loving bull who prefers flowers over fighting. Having watched its trailer, I entered the cinema with managed expectations, especially with the fact that the last animated film I’ve seen before it is the incredibly brilliant and widely acclaimed “Coco”. “Ferdinand,” however, turned out to be a pleasant surprise, and I actually enjoyed the movie much more than I thought I would.
Look beyond the usual tropes of children’s animated films, and you’ll see that there’s more to “Ferdinand” that what’s on the surface. In an environment where machismo has grown too toxic and at some point even deadly, our titular pacifist bull dares to express himself, regardless of how other bulls see him as “soft” merely because he likes smelling flowers more than sniffing a disdainful culture of violence. In a society that tells us that “boys don’t cry” or “girls should only like dolls”, it’s refreshing to see a kid’s movie that tells us otherwise. “Ferdinand” shows us that it’s okay to have different interests from everybody else, and bullying someone for being different doesn’t necessarily make you any better, or them inferior.
However, despite the cute animation and quirky characters, parents may want to take note that “Ferdinand” has hints of darker undertones, which may need a bit of explaining to kids. In the film, bulls that don’t get selected by the matador are brought to the “Chop Chop” which is basically a slaughterhouse for bulls who can’t fight. In one scene, a bull thinks he’s off to become a champion when he’s actually being sent away for slaughtering. I don’t know if it’s just me but I find this scene unsettling, along with other scenes that are suggestive of what really happens to bulls that fight in the ring and return as mere horns.
But don’t get the impression though that “Ferdinand” is all gloom. In fact, it’s one of the most genuinely funny and enjoyable animated films I’ve seen recently. It’s peppered with clever scenes that entertain kids and adults alike. My favorite part is a dance-off between the bulls and the pretty horses, which is less corny than it sounds. It’s surprisingly hilarious; I wish it was held on for longer.
“Ferdinand” is an animated movie that toils to communicate a positive message to its young viewers. Neither the animation nor the storyline is perfect, but the brilliant performances of voice actors (John Cena, Kate McKinnon, David Tennant, Gina Rodriguez and Flula Borg) and the hilariously entertaining script do more than enough to make up for what’s lacking. This is one movie I’d bring my nieces and nephews to see.
2017 / Animation, Drama / US
Direction: Carlos Saldanha
Screenplay: Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle, Brad Copeland
Cast: John Cena, Kate McKinnon, David Tennant, Gina Rodriguez, Bobby Cannavale, Flula Borg
After Ferdinand, a bull with a big heart, is mistaken for a dangerous beast, he is captured and torn from his home. Determined to return to his family, he rallies a misfit team on the ultimate adventure.