Ferdinand is one of those classic children's stories that we all know reasonably well, even if we never actually read the book. It's been translated and adapted several times before, and the newest incarnation of the pacifist bull comes in the form of an animated feature from the studio behind the Ice Age movies.
Ferdinand is a young bull being raised among others who are all being trained to compete in the bullfights of Madrid. However, Ferdinand has no interest in fighting, and would rather sit and smell the flowers. Ferdinand's father is a very large and strong bull, who gets chosen to fight in Madrid, but when dad doesn't return home, Ferdinand escapes his home and finds his way to a farm where he grows up to be a massive, though no less peaceful, animal. Unfortunately, following an accident that results in Ferdinand tearing a path of destruction through town, he's viewed as a vicious beast, leading him down a path toward the bullfighting arena he'd been trying to avoid.
If you still remember your reading of Ferdinand from your childhood days, or possibly recently reading it to another child, you'll notice some significant differences in the story, even in that brief summary. The most difficult thing about turning a children's book that can be read in about 10 minutes into a feature film, is figuring out where to add to the story. Ferdinand the movie does this in a pair of ways. One works, and one doesn't.
The added subplot that sees Ferdinand actually escape from his captivity, and grow up on a farm, works well enough as a way to expand the story. It introduces new characters, gives the character of Ferdinand a bit more development and helps make the resolution of the film a bit stronger, as the one in the book is actually fairly anticlimactic.
The other thing that Ferdinand does, however, in order to pad out its runtime, is fill the story with pop-music moments and silly slapstick comedy. While these scenes will probably work well for the less discriminating members of the audience (read: children), the adults that brought them to the theater will likely be less impressed. The vast majority are literal filler that don't impact the characters or the story in any way.
John Cena voices Ferdinand and does a solid job in his first feature film voice acting role. Cena has shown that he's got solid comic timing both in film roles and even inside the WWE ring. He mostly plays the straight man here, but he knows how to set up a joke. Kate McKinnon co-stars as a goat named Lupe who decides to take Ferdinand under her...hoof, I guess, and train him in the bullring, even though that's the last thing he wants. She's the Costello to Cena's Abbott and the two work well together, although McKinnon is pretty over the top and eventually her constant jokes begin to wear you down.
While some recent animated films file Zootopia and the very recent Coco have been "family" movies that touch on some very real, and very grown-up issues. Ferdinand decides to avoid anything deep and go for simple surface level entertainment. The film touches on some more serious elements in regards to what actually happens to bulls inside a bullring, but it stops short of going deep enough to find any real emotion, deciding instead to keep things light and fun. It's a lost opportunity that could have potentially raised the film up to something more than childish entertainment.
In the end, Ferdinand should be a fun enough movie for the kids too young to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It's got laughs and bright, colorful animation. There just isn't enough there for whoever ends up taking the kids to the theater.
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