Director: Carlos Saldanha
Cast: John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Gina Rodriguez, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, David Tennant
This heartwarming animated adaptation of the popular children’s book, The Story of Ferdinand (by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson), leaves you smiling, laughing, sighing, and feeling upbeat, all along its lovely journey. Almost every great animated feature film succeeds in making you see the characters on screen as stylised versions of the voice actors who play them. Ferdinand made me see the sweet and sensitive titular character as an exaggerated version of the behemoth-like John Cena.
It was the same for Lupe, the hilarious calming goat played by an extremely comedic Kate McKinnon. At once both a touching and uproariously funny tale, the film scores points in just about every department an animated film must be judged on.
Just when you think things are about to get too mushy, Carlos Saldanha throws a curve ball at the audience. Among the many sequences of comedy the film is peppered with are two that remain an absolute standout in my eyes: the ‘bull in a China shop’ sequence at the flower festival (where Ferdinand tiptoes around a store full of breakables, as he hides from the authorities), and the introduction of a rambling Lupe (trying to calm an agitated Ferdinand down). Both had me in splits. This is a film children (most of them, at least) will enjoy; not just does it take them on an exciting adventure, it also tells the story of an admirable value system in a simple yet effective way.
A young calf called Ferdinand is being reared to be a Spanish fighting bull. He is teased by his peers for not embracing his destiny and being too soft. Non-violent by nature, Ferdinand prefers to revel in the scent of flowers. When his beloved father (a successful fighting bull) does not return from the arena one day, he escapes from the farm and goes in search of a new life. Finding a stray calf on their property, a family adopts the scared little child. Unlike on the farm, Ferdinand is showered with love, and is allowed to flourish into a majestic yet non-violent bull.
Even as a young adult, he picks flowers and smells them, and makes good friends with all the animals on the estate (especially the seemingly uninterested dog, Paco). Ferdinand is forbidden to accompany the family to the flower festival due to his imposing size, but he is unable to resist temptation. His entry into the festival is disastrous, with his gigantic frame and presence scaring off onlookers. Much to his family’s dismay, the peaceful and well-meaning bull is taken away by the police on the grounds of safety. A twist of fate has Ferdinand returning to his old farm, to be reared as a fighting bull.
As all good children’s tales go, there is a bit of sentimentality to be expected, and Ferdinand is no exception. One good thing it does, though, is to keep things simple. The lead character, with his endearing eyes and considerable girth, will have even jaded and cynical grown-ups hanging on to his every word. After all, animated films are supposed to draw out that child in each and every one of us. A straightforward story effectively told through excellent voice work courtesy Cena & Co., Ferdinand pays tribute to the lovable bull who chose the path of non-violence and won hearts.