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Ferdinand – Movie Review

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Ferdinand – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy 20th Century Fox

It’s fitting that Ferdinand, a film based on Munro Leaf’s 1936 book about a pacifist bull who just wants to smell the flowers, is so sweet and laidback. With a character who rejects violence and wants no place in bull fighting, this film seeks to set that same example. Director Carlos Saldanha portrays Ferdinand as a likeable individual we root for and surrounds him with a humourous set of supporting players for him to interact with. The humanitarian and pro-animal messages that were present in the Rio films are nicely included here, with bull fighting being the main point of contention. To see such a brutal sport and the treatment of bulls in Spain so heavily criticised in a major motion picture is definitely something to be appreciated.

The goodhearted nature of Ferdinand is evident early on, during a montage with the titular bull’s owner Nina. It’s difficult not to smile during these bonding moments and Saldanha and the Blue Sky artists earn laughs and “aww’s” immediately. John Cena gives a further added warmth as the voice of Ferdinand and it’s oddly fitting casting for the wrestler. There’s genuine heartbreak when the two are separated and that makes the determination and need for them to be reunited all the more important. Ferdinand isn’t short on characters and each is pivotal to the story in their own unique way. Lupe the calming goat provides the humourous comic relief, but the scene stealers end up being a trio of trickster hedgehogs. David Tennant also brings his distinctive Scottish brogue to an adorable highland cattle.

Saldanha directs a number of set-pieces with the proper flourish and cinematographer Renato Falcão also deserves credit for how he frames the shots. There are some beautiful images here, especially a sad moment showcasing the harsh reality of bull fighting. Ferdinand manages to portray the upsetting life of a bull in a way that’s still family friendly and yet nonetheless doesn’t shy away, thus upping the stakes. A prison break scene is excellently put together with multiple brilliant sight gags. The only scene that doesn’t quite click is a dance-off with a trio of pompous horses. It merely feels like an excuse to animate dancing bulls and doesn’t further the story along in any meaningful way. Thankfully, this presents only a tiny portion of the film.

Saldanha allows the proper time for quiet scenes, too. One sequence is entirely wordless and is breathtaking in how it visually tells the story through the animation. Blue Sky has always had brilliant animation, making excellent use of the computer and the talented artists working there. Ferdinand is no exception, with the posing being unique to each character. A scene with Ferdinand in a china shop is choreographed to perfection and looks like something out of a classic Disney cartoon. The grace of movement and the timing involved in that sequence deserves instant recognition. Saldanha and his animators also get a lot of mileage out of a star matador and his dance-like steps. Even as Ferdinand derides bull fighting, it’s clear how much research went into portraying the sport in this film.

Ferdinand is the sort of film we could use more of, featuring a loveable lead character who wants to make those around him happy and doesn’t see violence as the necessary solution to his problems. The whole film is sweet and touching from start to finish, with a good heart and a nice message. How Ferdinand will be received in Spain remains to be seen, although great care has obviously been taken to portray the country properly, right down the streets and signage. It represents a fitting follow-up to Carlos Saldanha’s delightful Rio duology and that it seeks to highlights the unfair treatment of bulls makes this required viewing during the holidays. If Star Wars: The Last Jedi is inevitably sold out, this is a more than pleasing alternative playing right next door.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison