Would you believe a story about a strong male bovine who absolutely detests fighting matadors in crowded Spanish bullfighting arenas for brutal elegance, ferocity and glory? And that all this behemoth really wants are love and flowers?
Un-bull-ievable, one might say.
But that is exactly the premise of this film and the heartwarming personality of the protagonist. This paves the way for mature and touching messages that are still relevant to modern society. It’ll push you to wake up and, yes, smell the roses.
A faithful portrayal of Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson’s 1936 children’s book The Story Of Ferdinand, this animated adaptation – set mainly in Madrid – follows the non-aggressive bull Ferdinand as he escapes from a bullfight-training compound and is lovingly raised in a caring environment. One that is filled with flowers too.
In a twist of fate, he is mistakenly captured for being a public hazard, all due to his poorly-timed accidental ferocity, and sent back to his previous compound. Here he must decide – against opposition – where his heart truly lies: in the fighting arena or back in his peaceful world.
The messages in this film are well-presented. For example, Ferdinand tackles gender barriers head-on, typified in the lead male character’s love of flowers instead of, well, head-butting.
And it unapologetically rams home the point that you should just be happy being you, and never be weighed down by societal norms and expectations.
It’s not so much a story about pursuing one’s passion despite the odds (as in Ratatouille and Sing), but rather about standing up for who you are and finding your own identity.
Ferdinand tries to be that beacon of light and sign of encouragement in a tough unforgiving environment, with evident results.
The movie also highlights the sheer brutality and inhumanness of bullfighting, akin to Roman Coliseum battles and animal cockfights.
The broad themes of Gladiator, The Hunger Games, Hacksaw Ridge, Black Beauty and White Fang seem to converge in this one.
There is perhaps a noticeably biblical message here, too, about turning the other cheek, nobly depicted by Ferdinand himself alongside his self-sacrificing posture.
John Cena – is it even surprising his character is a bull, albeit a tame one? – deserves a bouquet for providing a great voice for Ferdinand. It does seem like a trend now for WWE action stars to take on voice-acting for animated family films (who can forget Dwayne Johnson’s Maui from Moana?).
Tenth Doctor Who David Tennant also provides for an entertaining Scottish bull, Angus.
Unadvisable for young children to watch alone, Ferdinand does well to highlight the dark and grim themes of death and danger, though balancing it with humour and warmth.
The film’s comedy may be slightly cheesy at times, but there are a number of noteworthy laughable moments (like the breath-holding amusing scene at the chinaware shop).
While Ferdinand is not a brilliant film, it does get you to see things in a different light, and is worth the watch … and a listen too, thanks to a couple of vibrant songs from Nick Jonas.
Voice cast: John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, Gabriel Iglesias, Bobby Cannavale, David Tennant, Anthony Anderson, Flula Borg, Sally Phillips, Boris Kodjoe, Jerrod Carmichael, Raul Esparza, Karla Martinez, Miguel Angel Silvestre
Director: Carlos Saldanha