FILM REVIEW: FERDINAND Charges For Greatness But Sees Red
The children’s tale of Ferdinand finally gets the big tent, big studio adaptation with a release by 20th Century Fox this weekend, helmed by veteran animated director Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age, Rio, and Robots are some of his credits). It is an adorable story with a timely anti-violence, anti-bullying message, adapted into a well-meaning movie that boasts of talented voice cast and a catch song called “Home” by teen-throb Nick Jonas. But despite having all the ingredients for a successful and heartwarming bowl of cartoon soup, Ferdinand is persistently and fatally hobbled by an uneven script that takes the central figure all over the place, like an animal out of control.
Ferdinand the bull’s destiny is preordained from the moment you first lay eyes on him. The other kids in the playpen, so to speak, aspire to be like the grownups. The grownups, for their part, want to be the biggest and baddest bull, the one selected to face off the matador in Madrid. Ferdinand, for his part, does not believe in violence. He prefers to admire flowers. And he certainly has no business with the rest of the steer, most of whom are, well, bullies. Led by the pushy and violent Valiente (Bobby Cannavale) the drove of bulls, which also includes the wimpy Bones (Anthony Anderson), Guapo (Peyton Manning), and later, the scarily engineered Maquina, all have the same goals and aspirations, first in youth and then in older age. But Ferdinand knows different.
When Ferdinand’s father is chose and does not return, Ferdinand becomes even more convinced that there is no glory beyond them there walls. He escapes and is lucky enough to find loving refuge in a flower farm owned by Juan (Juanes) and run by his bull-loving daughter, Nina. Later, though, Ferdinand is captured when he bull-in-the-china-shops a local flower festival, and is forced to compete for selection with the Valiente-led crew.
If the convoluted plot of the outline sounds like a shell game, it is because it almost is. There are hints of Okja in the film (the cruel animal masters who want to separate the girl from her pet), as well as of Sausage Party (the unsuspecting animated characters who think salvation lies where doom resides). There are obvious allegories (Ferdinand being the destructive bull in the flower festival) followed by even more obvious ones (an admittedly funny scene that follows, where he actually goes into a china shop). Promising plot threads are abandoned (Nina and Ferdinand’s love of flowers are nowhere to be seen for two-thirds of the film). More and more animals are added into the free-for-all cast.
Still, Ferdinand is good entertainment, specially for very young children. When Ferdinand returns to the bull ranch he encounters, in addition to his grown up mates (of whom he has become, unwittingly, the largest), a gaggle of ridiculous horses with German accents and aptly named Hans, Klaus, and Greta, as well as a trio of hedgehogs mysteriously called Una, Dos, and Cuatro. The little dance-offs or fart-offs are amusing enough and your kids will surely laugh. More importantly, the anti-bullying, anti-violence message that is inherent in the story remains, and is told well if not obsessively.
But despite its best intentions (and the positively hilarious turn by Ms. McKinnon as a wily goat that befriends Ferdinand and becomes his mentor), Ferdinand turns out frustratingly choppy. Trying to do too much with just one bite, it ends up swerving for several red capes and missing all of them. The message of wanting to fit in while following your own dreams is appreciated and sweet. The execution of the animation with the effective song is good as far as it goes. But the filmmakers simply refuse to grab the bull by the horns in a decisive move and make the movie about one single thing.
Ole, I guess.