Film Review: Ferdinand

Ferdinand is a colourful, kind-hearted enough piece intended for kids, obviously, and features an appealing protagonist, but the fact that the plot hinges upon bullfighting — and builds up to Ferdinand being forced into the ring — makes this one Christmas pic that might well turn families off.

This filming of the popular 1936 children’s book written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson isn’t a Pixar or Disney effort but the latest from Blue Sky Studios, the stable best-known for the animated Ice Age movies, and its director, Carlos Saldanha, also handled three of the five entries in that series (and he also offers some additional voices here, including ‘Screaming Matador’).

The young Ferdinand (voiced by Colin H. Murphy) is introduced getting pushed around by the other bulls in the Casa Del Toro in Madrid, where the animals are either chosen to fight or, sometimes, shipped off somewhere and never seen again. The bulls eventually know where, and so do we, but the multi-penned script is cagey about coming right out and saying it.

When Ferdinand manages to escape, he’s found by a kindly farmer and brought home to be a pet for sweet young Nina (mostly voiced by Lily Day), and a nice montage shows him smelling flowers, prancing in fields and growing up to be huge and powerful, but no less unusually pacifist, and pleasingly voiced by wrestler/actor John Cena. When he unintentionally smashes up a street festival, he’s shipped right back to the Casa, where Kate McKinnon steals scenes as Lupe the ‘calming goat’ and David Tennant also shines as Angus the bull who, for some reason, speaks in a heavy Scottish accent (and, just to add to the confusion, a nearby show-off trio of horses inexplicably talk in affected German accents).

Naturally Ferd, Lupe, the other bulls and a trio of cute hedgehogs break out in a lengthy and enjoyable enough sequence that goes on a bit, before he’s caught once more and forced into facing the inevitable. And little children should find the climax puzzling and unsettling (ie. “Mummy, why is that nasty man waving that sword in Ferdinand’s face?”).

With its mostly amiable cast of second-string voicers, a few fluffy gags and a message that might be misconstrued (it does look like the takeaway moral is ‘Nice bulls get treated horribly but they’ll get over it’), this is still going to have a hard time charming most silly season crowds because, again, it’s all about the whole barbaric business of bullfighting — no matter how you try and sugarcoat it.

Rated G. Ferdinand is in cinemas now.

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