Movie review: Feeling bullish about 'Ferdinand'

Fred Hawson

Posted at Jan 12 2018 05:55 AM | Updated as of Jan 12 2018 08:36 AM

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The only computer animated films by Blue Sky Studios that come to mind are "Ice Age" (2002) and "Rio" (2011) and their sequels -- mid-tier titles that may not count as animated classics in the long run, as Disney or Pixar films are more expected to be. My personal favorite Blue Sky film was "The Peanuts Movie" (2015). 

The offering of Blue Sky this year is an adaptation of a 1936 children's book called "The Story of Ferdinand" written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson. The title character Ferdinand is a peaceful bull who would rather play and smell flowers than do what is traditionally expected of him -- fight in the bullring. 

The treatment of the story in this animated film version was very juvenile, a bit too sweet and sentimental at times. Scriptwriters Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle and Brad Copeland weaved into the central plot several wacky misadventures of the main character and his friends to make it appealing to kids. 

Carlos Sandanha, the Brazilian director of a number of Blue Sky's biggest hits like "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" (2012) and both "Rio" films, told this important story of non-violence with a kind yet assured touch and silly sense of humor which audiences young and old will appreciate.

It was an unexpected but inspired choice to have WWE professional wrestler John Cena give his voice to gentle Ferdinand. It was a most pleasant surprise to say the least to find that out after watching the film. His job as a wrestler parallels that of Ferdinand in that he is expected to fight, whether he likes it or not. 

Kate McKinnon voiced Lupe, an old she-goat that befriends Ferdinand, with her signature wisecracking style. Bobby Cannavale voiced Valiente, the bull that bullies Ferdinand, with his signature gangster style. Broadway star Raul Esparza voiced Moreno, the owner of Casa del Toro, where young bulls train to become fighting bulls. While this was another surprising choice of voice, it was too bad that Esparza did not sing.

The topic about bullfighting -- a very violent Spanish tradition that involves deadly abuse of an animal -- is certainly a very serious matter for a children's film to tackle. For me, that scene at the bullring (in the iconic Las Ventas arena in Madrid) was when the whole film woke up for me. The director may have tried to lighten the mood with incidental comedy, but the scariness (and senselessness) of bullfights was still there to drive home the point. 7/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."