Kernel Rating (out of 5): (3.5 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 107 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 7+. This movie about the bull that prefers smelling flowers to fighting matadors channels the spirit of the original children’s book by Munro Leaf, and is a profoundly kind work. To beef up the novel, the film adds a few subplots, including one that focuses on what happens to bulls after they lose (and touches on losing a parent), another on what happens at the chophouse, and some bullying, involving name-calling and some pushing around.
John Cena brings kindness and calmness to ‘Ferdinand,’ the animated adaptation of the classic children’s novel about a bull that would rather smell flowers than charge matadors. The movie is satisfying for all ages.
By Roxana Hadadi
How do you pursue your own dreams when everyone tells you they’re wrong? Themes of persistence and ambition are common in children’s movies, but few of them are as kind, gentle, or compassionate as “Ferdinand.” Based on the classic children’s book by Munro Leaf, “The Story of Ferdinand,” this Blue Sky Studios production amps up the basic storyline of that text but keeps the spirit the same: that a refusal to fight is not the same as backing down, and that staying true to yourself is not the same as hating others. It’s a reassuring message for children and adults alike.
Set in Spain, “Ferdinand” focuses on the titular bull, who from childhood is raised to be a muscular, aggressive fighter whose one goal is to face the matador in an arena, competing for pride and glory before thousands of screaming fans in Madrid. That’s what nearly every other bull at Casa del Tor, a ranch in the Spanish countryside, desires. But Ferdinand is different: He doesn’t want to train with the other bulls, he doesn’t like fighting or arguing, and when the film opens, he’s struggling to carry a pail of water to tend to a carnation that has sprouted in the middle of the bulls’ practice area. He prefers smelling flowers to starting fights.
That makes Ferdinand the focus of everyone else’s jokes—especially those of bully Valiente—but when he realizes what happens to bulls who lose against the matador, Ferdinand decides to run away, eventually ending up on a flower farm. For a bull who loves smelling flowers, chasing butterflies, and rolling down hills, it’s the perfect place to be, especially alongside 8-year-old Nina (voiced by Lily Day), whose father grows flowers all year to sell at a local festival. But as Ferdinand (voiced as an adult by John Cena) grows up, he gets bigger and bigger, until finally he’s too large to go to the festival with Nina—he would scare people away.
Through a series of accidents, Ferdinand ends up reconnecting with his old tormentors instead of returning home with Nina, and the focus of “Ferdinand” becomes whether you can change who you are, even if your fate or purpose seems predestined. “I’m not a fighter,” Ferdinand says, to which another bull replies, “What else is there?” But Ferdinand never gives up hope, and his sense of optimism and generosity is delightful to see onscreen.
Otherwise, the film features some of the same stuff Blue Sky Studios normally packs into their pictures, like an annoying secondary character that is continuously irritating (a goat, Lupe, who despite being voiced by Kate McKinnon is pretty one-note); a dance-off between the bulls and their stuck-up pony neighbors, set to contemporary pop music; and a trio of secondary hedgehog characters who are mostly defined by their haircuts and their chubbiness.
Some of it works and some of it doesn’t, but it’s mostly all secondary to Ferdinand, who the film gets perfectly right. Cena’s voice performance is steady and emotive, the bull’s character design is nuanced and energetic (giving life to even a somewhat clichéd bull-in-a-china-shop scene), and there is grace and beauty to the scenes where Ferdinand sits by himself, quietly and peacefully, on top of a hill covered in blooming flowers and plants. “Ferdinand” is more meaningful than you would expect, and like November’s “Wonder,” one of the most gently lovely films this year.
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