Review: ‘Ferdinand’, A Fun Family Flick That Grabs You By The Horns

The 1936 children’s book “The Story of Ferdinand” is a timeless one.  Released shortly before the Spanish Civil War, the story focused on a pacifist bull who was more interested in smelling the flowers than engaging in brutal bullfighting against a vain matador.  Walt Disney even did a short film back in 1938, Ferdinand the Bull.  The message of the story has resonated over the years and the book has continued to capture the hearts and minds of people over the years.  It’s actually surprising that a modern retelling of the story didn’t come out sooner than 2017.  But in a year marked with partisanship and aggression across the world, now’s the perfect time for such a retelling.

Director Carlos Saldanha took the original story, and gave it some extra padding and character development (as well as some stellar animation) in Ferdinand.  The young calf (John Cena) is raised on a farm to be bred for bullfighting.  All the bulls old and young on the farm dream for the glory of facing off against the Matador.  However, Ferdinand just wants to smell the flowers.  He even does so in secret, not to come off as weak in the eyes of his fellow bulls (who not only pick on him because of his frail size, but also because he doesn’t want to fight), and most of all to impress his father (Jeremy Sisto).  Ferdinand even pleads with his father if there is anything else he can do as a bull beside fight.  His father, although supportive, knows the lay of the land and tries to impart words of wisdom and love for his son, before he goes off for his own fight against the Matador, never to return.

Through a bizarre sequence, Ferdinand does get his wish for a different life as he escapes the farm and finds his way to a flower farm where he spends his time under the loving care of Juan (Juanes) and Lily (Lily Day).  There, he’s not a brute to train up and fight.  He’s just a loveable pet of Lily and spends all his time either with her, smelling the flowers, or getting into common bickering with the family dog Paco (Jerrod Carmichael).  For a peace-loving bull like Ferdinand, this is the life, as long as he remains on the flower farm.

The movie is split into two main parts.  One, where he’s enjoying the tranquil life on the flower farm with his newfound human (and dog) family, the other is when he (through yet another bizarre circumstance) has to go back to the ranch and once again be forced to be a fighter.  There’s a reason the family kept the (now grown and HUGE) bull on their farm in secret.  His presence welcomes strife as people at large don’t know or accept him the way they do.  After causing a ruckus, he’s sent back to the farm to become a fighter.

Now, all the young calves that he spent his childhood with are now big bulls themselves.  Ferdinand, the gentle giant, meets new animals on the ranch, as well as deal with his childhood rival Valiente (Bobby Cannavale).  Lucky for Ferdinand, he has a Lupe (Kate McKinnon) and old goat (and most of the comic relief), who’s determined to be his manager.  Still not wanting to be a fighter, Ferdinand has to figure out a way to avoid becoming the Matador’s (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) opponent of choice.

Like Coco, the movie Ferdinand is very steeped in culture.  While not all of the voices in the film are Spanish (after all, they have David Tennant playing a Scottish bull and a series of German horses), the film is hip deep in Spanish culture.  After all, the film takes place in Spain and is very much involved in bullfighting culture.  Unlike Coco, this film will not leave you crying your eyes out for the rest of the afternoon as it has a much lighter and more relaxed tone throughout the film.  The film does go into dark territories at times, as the bulls only have two choices: be good enough to fight the Matador (and most likely die in the ring), or go to the slaughterhouse.  There is a sequence at the farm’s meat factory where Ferdinand uses his brute size to rescue one of his friends doomed to be hamburger meat.

While there are no songs sung by the impressive celebrity cast, there is a pretty good soundtrack, including “Home” by Nick Jonas that shows Ferdinand growing up from a young calf to the gentle giant he is as an adult.  The animation is stunning as well.  As Ferdinand goes on his two journeys, you get to see some breathtaking shots of the countryside.

The film has a great amount of comedy.  Ferdinand’s fish out of water sequence when he goes into town for the first time is laugh out loud funny.  There is also a “dance off” between the bulls and the horses that somehow found a way to incorporate Pitbull into it.  Kate McKinnon as Lupe, a trio of hedgehogs (Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, and Gabriel Iglesias), Bull the bull (Anthony Anderson) and Peyton Manning of all people lend their voices for some great scene to give you a great laugh.  Cena, of course, continues to ooze charisma as the titular character.  Like Dwayne Johnson, the on and off again wrestler continues to have a good acting career.

While Ferdinand is based on a book from more than 70 years ago, the story remains timeless.  The film did some necessary padding to help flesh out the story to more contemporary times with a great amount of heart.  As this is the holiday season, and we all love a good feel good film, Ferdinand is a film that the whole family can enjoy.

Rating: 4 out of 5