By Laurie Coker
Ferdinand is a great deal of bull. Even with voice talent as varied as the bulls in the yard, the picture book turned animated feature, Ferdinand, fails to please audience members over the age of six or seven. There just isn’t much meat on the bones of the story. The pretty animation does not help lift Ferdinand above the stock themes and simple plot, but it does keep little ones engaged.
John Cena voices Ferdinand, the runt bull in the yard. Rather than fight, Ferdinand carefully waters a lone flower. Around him the other bulls, one in particular, train for the day they can face the greatest bullfighter in the country. Valiente (Bobby Cannavale) tells Ferdinand and the others in the yard, “You’re either a fighter, or you’re meat.” Never were truer words spoke – at least not by a bull. For the bulls in this tale, it’s the ring or the butcher. Still, determined not to every fight, Ferdinand runs away and finds Nina, a human girl whose father grows and sells flowers. He is in heaven, but a series of mishaps, including a disaster in a china shop, land the young, but substantially larger bull back behind bullring bars. A calming goat called Lupe (voiced by Kate McKinnon) and three goofy hedgehogs (Uno, Dos, and Cuarto) help Ferdinand save the day.
While the under tens will delight in Ferdinand’s escapades, adults will find themselves picking apart the films’ little annoyances. The animals are only understood by each other, but somehow Nina (Lily Day) names her new calf Ferdinand. Where there are opportunities for bull jokes and puns none appear and jokes, fall flat, especially the silly crude ones. Wrestler turned actor, Cena does “animate” – pun intended – the titular bull nicely, but it is a bit perplexing that this cast would be picked for a film set entirely in Spain – and save for a few words, no one speaks Spanish or has a Spanish accent for that matter. These irritants will go unnoticed by kids, but since the story lacks luster and adult humor, their parents have time to nit-pick.
Ferdinand is cute. Its few “awe” moments can’t save it, but as a holiday diversion, there have been far worse. For children, especially girls, cute is enough, and it is that simple. Ferdinand has to learn to be himself and to go against the norm. Director Carlos Saldanha’s film offers some enthusiastic animation and affords the kind of message that parents appreciate, notably the positive ways to deal coming of age and self-identity. Compared to other animated features out this year, Ferdinand land right in the middle – and as such earns a C.