Released 14th December (Australia)
Seen 10th December (Advance Screening)
Directed by Carlos Saldanha
Written by Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle, Brad Copeland
Produced by Blue Sky Studios, Twentieth Century Fox Animation
Starring John Cena, Bobby Cannavale, Kate McKinnon, Peyton Manning & David Tennant
Based on the novel The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, this tale may be over 80 years old but it has probably never been more relevant than it is right now. The story follows Ferdinand (Played by John Cena) as he tried to defy the perception of others who just see him as a big scary bull when, in reality, Ferdinand would be happier sniffing flowers and making friends. It’s a tale that’s somehow lasted all this time and this year seems like the perfect year to release this adaptation of the novel and god damn, it’s good.
The cast in this is pretty excellent, especially John Cena who was able to portray a bull who is physically tough but sweet as can be. There’s just enough power in that voice to show what strength it there but his natural charm shines through and makes this sweet bull thrive. Kate McKinnon also turns in a pretty spectacular performance as the goat Lupe who has to handle a lot of the comedy in the second half of the movie and there’s enough manic energy to really make it work. The other bulls that Ferdinand associates with are also pretty well defined by their voices. Bobby Cannavale, Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning and David Tennant take on the other bulls and all of them create fun performances that genuinely get a lot of good laughs out.
I would be lying if I didn’t point out that sometimes the writing fails it. I’m absolutely fine with jokes about butts and farts, nothing wrong with a little lowbrow humour when done right… this doesn’t do it right, there’s one joke that’s literally “You’re blind and talking to a butt” which wasn’t exactly funny. Fortunately, this film is best when it’s just taking the story of Ferdinand seriously. What appears to just be a story about a bull can be seen as a pretty timely metaphor for toxic masculinity, namely the bulls who just indulge in violence end up being worse off while Ferdinand, unafraid to actually express his emotions and do things that others mock him for, actually comes out pretty good. I’m unsure if that was their intent but in this year, that’s how it comes across and it does it pretty well. I also love the film’s indictment of the bullfighting industry, they hammer in how brutal it is within a few seconds and they don’t try to sugar coat it. They treat the kids watching this film with the respect that they’ll understand what’s being said and I appreciated that.
Visually there’s a lot to like here. Blue Sky is one of those companies that just keeps getting better and better with their visual style and this is some of their best work. The film is vibrant and is flush with bright colours that pop in every shot, the transitions between some shots are beautiful. There’s just one simple shot of young Ferdinand jumping and in midair, he grows into the larger Ferdinand and it’s a gorgeous shot to behold. They managed to make every single animal bright and adorable and easy to fall in love with. There are a few moments where I think they push some of the characters poses too far, there’s one scene with a weirdly English cop (Weird because the film is set in Italy, it’s weird to hear that accent in this setting) that just looked bad, but the style of the film works wonderfully and really sells how much warmth this Bull brings to the world around him.
As a general rule, I do tend to have a mild problem with annoying mini sidekicks. I think everyone has had their fill of them ever since the Minions convinced every filmmaker that they needed a trio of adorable animals to do wacky things and it’s so hard to make work. This film makes them work. The three Hedgehogs named Una, Dos and Cuatro (We do not speak of Tres) played by Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs and Gabriel Iglesias respectively could have been a painful addition but they have some great comedic moments, they help the plot, they’re essential to the story. They also have a pretty cute mid-credits scene you might want to wait for.
In general, Ferdinand is exactly as adorable as you thought it was going to be. A sweet movie with a good message, a few laughs and some beautiful artwork. A little more tinkering would have improved it but what we ended up getting was pretty damn spectacular.