Adapted from Munro Leaf’s beloved 1936 children’s book, Blue Sky Studio’s “Ferdinand” is also a remake of Disney’s 1938 Silly Symphony short of the same story. In light of the proposed acquisition of Fox by Disney, this movie offers an interesting example of the differences between the two studios.
Ferdinand (John Cena) is different from the other bulls. He doesn’t care about bullfighting, he just wants to live peacefully, smelling the flowers. Escaping from Casa del Toro, a bullfighting training arena, he finds an idyllic life with a florist farm. But an incident involving a bee at a town flower market gives Ferdinand a reputation for ferocity that puts him on a path to the Coliseum for the final bullfight of El Primero, Spain’s most famous bullfighter.
“Ferdinand” boasts an appealing character design, taking its cues from the original illustrations by Robert Lawson, and the voice work by the cast is pretty good, especially John Cena and Kate McKinnon but there’s a generic blandness to the storytelling that stops it from sparking and makes much of the humour fall flat. The film touches on the themes of pacifism, the morality of bullfighting and, awkwardly, the meat industry but there’s a clumsy disinterest in exploring or opining on the themes that leaves a lot of questions hanging and may make for some interesting conversations with younger children. Its this lack of attention to the craft of storytelling that marks the biggest difference between Blue Sky and their soon to be stablemates Pixar or Disney Animation.
The runtime is padded out (necessarily – remember this story was able to be told in a short which ran just under 8 minutes) by over-long slapstick set-pieces which disrupt the pacing of the story and feel cynically engineered to keep the kiddies from getting bored.
If you’re content for your animated movies to provide colourful, mildly amusing childcare then “Ferdinand” is perfectly fine but if you’re looking for insightful and expertly crafted storytelling, exploring and illuminating interesting themes, then you’ll probably want something more than this load of bull.