Ferdinand – Movie Review

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.

, 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

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.

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.

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 Falcao 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 directs a number of set-pieces with the proper flourish and cinematographer Renato Falcao 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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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

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

duology and that it seeks to highlights the unfair treatment of bulls makes this required viewing during the holidays. If

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Enough of that kind of bull. What the world needs now is Ferdinand, sweet Ferdinand, a rare breed of bovine who takes a stand against aggression, competitive rivalry and conforming to the expectations of others.

Alas, the box-office force will be with ” Star Wars: The Last Jedi ” this weekend, while audiences will likely continue to be loco for ” Coco ,” Pixar’s tribute to Mexican culture. Hence, one must admire whoever had the cajones to release this pacifist-leaning animated fable based on a beloved 1936 children’s picture-book about a “toro” whose muscular build belies his soulful nature. Instead of locking horns with other bulls or dodging a matador’s red cape, Ferdinand would rather stop and smell the posies–especially the red ones. As he asks his father, “Can I be the champion of not fighting?”

,” Pixar’s tribute to Mexican culture. Hence, one must admire whoever had the cajones to release this pacifist-leaning animated fable based on a beloved 1936 children’s picture-book about a “toro” whose muscular build belies his soulful nature. Instead of locking horns with other bulls or dodging a matador’s red cape, Ferdinand would rather stop and smell the posies–especially the red ones. As he asks his father, “Can I be the champion of not fighting?”

Fox’s ‘toon factory Blue Sky is often more of a stealth player when it comes to touting its family films as opposed to the chest thumping that Disney and DreamWorks embrace. But lowered expectations aren’t a bad thing at times. That is why “Ferdinand” comes as a mostly pleasant surprise in a year that has produced a lack of stellar animated outings and stands in stark contrast to less savory aspects of ” The Boss Baby ” and “The LEGO Batman Movie.” Yes, there is padding afoot in the plotting, including a group dance-off, a too-long chase through a crowded city as well as an excess of chatty critters. But instead of being crude and rude, director Carlos Saldanha –a veteran of the ” Ice Age ” franchise whose “Rio” films were love letters to his native Brazil–and his writing team chose to extol such virtues as respect for others, teamwork, kindness and following your dream even if you are being coerced to do otherwise.

Fox’s ‘toon factory Blue Sky is often more of a stealth player when it comes to touting its family films as opposed to the chest thumping that Disney and DreamWorks embrace. But lowered expectations aren’t a bad thing at times. That is why “Ferdinand” comes as a mostly pleasant surprise in a year that has produced a lack of stellar animated outings and stands in stark contrast to less savory aspects of “

” and “The LEGO Batman Movie.” Yes, there is padding afoot in the plotting, including a group dance-off, a too-long chase through a crowded city as well as an excess of chatty critters. But instead of being crude and rude, director

” franchise whose “Rio” films were love letters to his native Brazil–and his writing team chose to extol such virtues as respect for others, teamwork, kindness and following your dream even if you are being coerced to do otherwise.

When we first meet Ferdinand as a calf, he doesn’t join in the macho games and trash talk enjoyed by his corral companions. He’d rather nurture a pretty carnation that has sprouted in their training pen than brag about his future prowess in the ring. But when his father fails to return after being picked to face a matador, Ferdinand runs away and finds himself on a farm awash in fragrant buds and becomes a pet to Nina, a young girl who lives there with her dad. As in the source material, Ferdinand grows to immense proportions yet maintains his docile nature. But a run-in with a bee causes him to become atypically ferocious and he is sent back to train with his old buddies.

He is assigned a wonky-toothed, googly-eyed calming goat named Lupe ( Kate McKinnon , a stitch in hyper sidekick mode) who coaches the grown-up Ferdinand (infectiously voiced by wrestling superstar John Cena ) in the art of the fight. But her heavyweight contender has no interest in charging at a red cape, especially after he figures out that a bull either ends up going to the “chop shop”–a rather terrifying meat factory that is bluntly dealt with–or is sacrificed for the sake of blood sport in the ring. It’s the opposite of a win-win. But that doesn’t prevent Ferdinand from being selected as a worthy opponent by the revered matador El Primero (Miguel Angel Silvestre) for his farewell appearance in the arena and puts his resistance to the test.

, a stitch in hyper sidekick mode) who coaches the grown-up Ferdinand (infectiously voiced by wrestling superstar

) in the art of the fight. But her heavyweight contender has no interest in charging at a red cape, especially after he figures out that a bull either ends up going to the “chop shop”–a rather terrifying meat factory that is bluntly dealt with–or is sacrificed for the sake of blood sport in the ring. It’s the opposite of a win-win. But that doesn’t prevent Ferdinand from being selected as a worthy opponent by the revered matador El Primero (Miguel Angel Silvestre) for his farewell appearance in the arena and puts his resistance to the test.

There are some clever sequences that make the most out Ferdinand’s considerable girth and natural grace, including one that capitalizes on the cliche “bull in a china shop” with nifty choreographed slapstick that wouldn’t be out of place in a W.C. Fields comedy from the ’40s. Though it is brief, I was charmed by a sight gag where Ferdinand accidentally gets a caterpillar stuck in his nose and quickly sneezes it out in the form of a beautiful butterfly. While Nina’s shaggy dog Paco doesn’t quite get how he and Ferdinand can be brothers, as the bull claims, his wagging tail is an endearing tell that he obviously agrees. And while their presence in the movie is seemingly superfluous, there is a trio of vain mane-tossing Lipizzaners in the next field who try to outdo the other animals with their prance moves. When their exhausted leader, Hans (German comic Flula Borg ), flops to the ground, I admit to laughing when he declares, “I’ve fallen–and I can’t giddy-up.”

There are some clever sequences that make the most out Ferdinand’s considerable girth and natural grace, including one that capitalizes on the cliche “bull in a china shop” with nifty choreographed slapstick that wouldn’t be out of place in a W.C. Fields comedy from the ’40s. Though it is brief, I was charmed by a sight gag where Ferdinand accidentally gets a caterpillar stuck in his nose and quickly sneezes it out in the form of a beautiful butterfly. While Nina’s shaggy dog Paco doesn’t quite get how he and Ferdinand can be brothers, as the bull claims, his wagging tail is an endearing tell that he obviously agrees. And while their presence in the movie is seemingly superfluous, there is a trio of vain mane-tossing Lipizzaners in the next field who try to outdo the other animals with their prance moves. When their exhausted leader, Hans (German comic

I also admired whoever chose such an eclectic quartet of actors to speak for Ferdinand’s bullring buddies: Bobby Cannavale as brutish Valiente, Anthony Anderson as skinny Bones, football legend Peyton Manning as skittish Guapo and David Tennant of “Doctor Who” fame as Angus, who hails from the Scottish highlands. But what is truly amazing about this film is how thoughtfully “Ferdinand” questions male gender expectations, considering the form of the message also showcases a trio of goofy hedgehogs named Una ( Gina Rodriguez ), Dos ( Daveed Diggs ) and Cuatro ( Gabriel Iglesias ).

I also admired whoever chose such an eclectic quartet of actors to speak for Ferdinand’s bullring buddies:

of “Doctor Who” fame as Angus, who hails from the Scottish highlands. But what is truly amazing about this film is how thoughtfully “Ferdinand” questions male gender expectations, considering the form of the message also showcases a trio of goofy hedgehogs named Una (

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W hen the now-beloved children’s book The Story of Ferdinand was first published in 1936, some grownups were worried that it might have a bad influence on children. Apparently its sweet, simple story — from writer Munro Leaf, with instantly iconic illustrations by Robert Lawson — was seen as promoting (take your pick) pacifism, fascism, communism, and/or anarchism. To be fair, its tale of a bull in Spain who wasn’t interested in bullfighting and only wanted to loll about in fields of flowers could certainly be taken as pacifist (and maybe that could have been a problem when it was clear that fighting Nazis was soon going to be a necessity). Maybe it wasn’t even unreasonable to see Ferdinand as an anarchic hero: if bulls (or people) suddenly got it into their heads that they could just do whatever they wanted, contrary to whatever their “rightful” place in the world was, well, maybe that might have led to anarchy.

was first published in 1936, some grownups were worried that it might have a bad influence on children. Apparently its sweet, simple story — from writer Munro Leaf, with instantly iconic illustrations by Robert Lawson — was seen as promoting (take your pick) pacifism, fascism, communism, and/or anarchism. To be fair, its tale of a bull in Spain who wasn’t interested in bullfighting and only wanted to loll about in fields of flowers could certainly be taken as pacifist (and maybe that could have been a problem when it was clear that fighting Nazis was soon going to be a necessity). Maybe it wasn’t even unreasonable to see Ferdinand as an anarchic hero: if bulls (or people) suddenly got it into their heads that they could just do whatever they wanted, contrary to whatever their “rightful” place in the world was, well, maybe that might have led to anarchy.

I wish those handwringers could see Blue Sky’s new big-screen take on Ferdinand. They’d freak out… because this Ferdinand moves that “anarchy” way beyond the standard cartoon-movie message of “Be yourself” and into a realm that overtly criticizes cultural presumptions and expectations as tyrannical. Ferdinand celebrates an odd outsider not merely for his own sake but for how his defiance of convention and his daring to be true to himself highlights just how dangerous those conventions can be. They could be the death of you, even.

I wish those handwringers could see Blue Sky’s new big-screen take on Ferdinand. They’d freak out… because this

moves that “anarchy” way beyond the standard cartoon-movie message of “Be yourself” and into a realm that overtly criticizes cultural presumptions and expectations as tyrannical.

celebrates an odd outsider not merely for his own sake but for how his defiance of convention and his daring to be true to himself highlights just how dangerous those conventions can be. They could be the death of you, even.

The notion to cast WWE “wrestler” John Cena as the voice of Ferdinand was an absolute stroke of genius, not least because Cena has been making a bit of a mark for himself in live-action comedies (such as Sisters and Trainwreck ) as an unexpectedly sensitive soul in a big scary body. There’s plenty that’s silly and downright goofy here — this is a movie for children, after all — but there’s never anything “funny” in Ferdinand’s gentleness, in his lack of interest in knocking heads with the other bulls, in his love of small furry critters and delicate flowers, in his intent to do no injury to anyone around him. I was so relieved to discover this, with so many movies offered as comedies these days reliant on bashing deviation from narrow gender norms and holding up for ridicule those who step out of line. What humor is derived from Ferdinand’s disposition is of a melancholy sort, as he attempts not to have the devastating impact on his surroundings that his “freakish hugeness” sometimes makes inevitable. There is a literal bull-in-a-china-shop sequence here, in which Ferdinand is trying so very hard not to cause any damage, that is absolutely lovely in how it plays with kiddie comedy, mining hilarious suspense out of incipient slapstick, yet never mocking Ferdinand for not wanting to let his body become a force for destruction.

The notion to cast WWE “wrestler” John Cena as the voice of Ferdinand was an absolute stroke of genius, not least because Cena has been making a bit of a mark for himself in live-action comedies (such as

) as an unexpectedly sensitive soul in a big scary body. There’s plenty that’s silly and downright goofy here — this is a movie for children, after all — but there’s never anything “funny” in Ferdinand’s gentleness, in his lack of interest in knocking heads with the other bulls, in his love of small furry critters and delicate flowers, in his intent to do no injury to anyone around him. I was so relieved to discover this, with so many movies offered as comedies these days reliant on bashing deviation from narrow gender norms and holding up for ridicule those who step out of line. What humor is derived from Ferdinand’s disposition is of a melancholy sort, as he attempts not to have the devastating impact on his surroundings that his “freakish hugeness” sometimes makes inevitable. There is a literal bull-in-a-china-shop sequence here, in which Ferdinand is trying

not to cause any damage, that is absolutely lovely in how it plays with kiddie comedy, mining hilarious suspense out of incipient slapstick, yet never mocking Ferdinand for not wanting to let his body become a force for destruction.

The brief source material has obviously been expanded to fill a feature-length film, but the core story remains the same. Ferdinand has no desire for the arena, and longs only to frolic in fields of wildflowers chasing butterflies. Big new chunks of story come in a runaway Ferdinand’s sojourn on a flower farm with a little girl called Nina (the voice of Lily Day), who treats him like a pet, and her dog, Paco (the voice of Jerrod Carmichael: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising ), whom Ferdinand calls a brother. “A dog and a bull can’t be brothers,” Paco insists. “That would be weird.” But it’s clear that Paco is only putting up a token objection, voicing the expected protest; his wagging tail says he agrees with Ferdinand, which the bull points out. “I guess weird is the new normal,” Ferdinand replies happily. “Weird” as a personal achievement, in the sense of breaking free of social pressure to conform, is a flag this movie proudly flies. More big new chunks of story come in with Ferdinand’s fellow bulls — voiced by Bobby Cannavale ( Daddy’s Home , Danny Collins ), Anthony Anderson ( The Town That Dreaded Sundown , The Big Year ), Peyton Manning, and David Tennant ( The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! , Fright Night ) — who, well, bully him for being a “weirdo.” They eagerly await the glory of the bullring… or what they have been told will be glory, anyway. Ferdinand isn’t only a pro-smelling-flowers story, it’s very much an overtly anti-bullfighting one, and uncovering the truth about bullfighting — like how it doesn’t go well for the bulls — is very much wrapped up in how the movie depicts the negative impact on the bulls of the lies they’ve been told about what it means to be a bull.

The brief source material has obviously been expanded to fill a feature-length film, but the core story remains the same. Ferdinand has no desire for the arena, and longs only to frolic in fields of wildflowers chasing butterflies. Big new chunks of story come in a runaway Ferdinand’s sojourn on a flower farm with a little girl called Nina (the voice of Lily Day), who treats him like a pet, and her dog, Paco (the voice of Jerrod Carmichael:

), whom Ferdinand calls a brother. “A dog and a bull can’t be brothers,” Paco insists. “That would be weird.” But it’s clear that Paco is only putting up a token objection, voicing the expected protest; his wagging tail says he agrees with Ferdinand, which the bull points out. “I guess weird is the new normal,” Ferdinand replies happily. “Weird” as a personal achievement, in the sense of breaking free of social pressure to conform, is a flag this movie proudly flies. More big new chunks of story come in with Ferdinand’s fellow bulls — voiced by Bobby Cannavale (

) — who, well, bully him for being a “weirdo.” They eagerly await the glory of the bullring… or what they have been told will be glory, anyway.

isn’t only a pro-smelling-flowers story, it’s very much an overtly anti-bullfighting one, and uncovering the truth about bullfighting — like how it doesn’t go well for the bulls — is very much wrapped up in how the movie depicts the negative impact on the bulls of the lies they’ve been told about what it means to be a bull.

Ferdinand is, then, the first movie for kids that I’m aware of that directly confronts the idea of toxic masculinity, that the gendered expectations that boys and men are subjected to — be strong and fierce, avoid looking weak or expressing soft emotion — can be harmful and limiting. (Never fear: It so does in a completely age-appropriate way that is an organic part of a fun, rollicking adventure story.) One of the most powerful moments in the movie comes when Lupe, the companion goat who lives with the bulls, offhandedly analyzes the dynamic among them thusly: “They hate me, they hate you, they hate each other. Makes you sad if you think about it.” Lupe is voiced by the marvelously zany Kate McKinnon ( Leap! , Office Christmas Party ), who hurls zings around with gleeful abandon. But this she delivers with somber consideration.

is, then, the first movie for kids that I’m aware of that directly confronts the idea of toxic masculinity, that the gendered expectations that boys and men are subjected to — be strong and fierce, avoid looking weak or expressing soft emotion — can be harmful and limiting. (Never fear: It so does in a completely age-appropriate way that is an organic part of a fun, rollicking adventure story.) One of the most powerful moments in the movie comes when Lupe, the companion goat who lives with the bulls, offhandedly analyzes the dynamic among them thusly: “They hate me, they hate you, they hate each other. Makes you sad if you think about it.” Lupe is voiced by the marvelously zany Kate McKinnon (

Blue Sky is 20th Century Fox’s animation studio; its best-known previous films are the Ice Age and Rio series, both of which rely heavily on abominable gender stereotypes most at home in 1950s sitcoms. ( Ferdinand director Carlos Saldanha is a Blue Sky vet.) It’s astonishing, then, that this movie — so kind, so freethinking, so uncommon in its ideas — could have sprung from it. And to have snuck in its rebellion among some fairly conventional, if well done, animal antics! Perhaps there’s another lesson here: Change is always possible, no matter how your life has previously been defined. Bravo.

series, both of which rely heavily on abominable gender stereotypes most at home in 1950s sitcoms. (

director Carlos Saldanha is a Blue Sky vet.) It’s astonishing, then, that this movie — so kind, so freethinking, so uncommon in its ideas — could have sprung from it. And to have snuck in its rebellion among some fairly conventional, if well done, animal antics! Perhaps there’s another lesson here: Change is always possible, no matter how your life has previously been defined. Bravo.

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This animated comedy adventure is based on the beloved children’s book, which was published in 1936 and first adapted for the big screen by Walt Disney in an Oscar-winning 1938 short. Thankfully, that warm, funny story is preserved in the middle of this animated feature, stretched out with lots of the usual slapstick and action mayhem. So while the silly, pointless mayhem will keep children giggling, it’s the story’s big heart that makes it worth seeing.

Ferdinand (voiced by John Cena ) is a young calf growing up on a ranch in Spain, being trained to become a fighter in the bull ring. But he’s far more interested in smelling the flowers. So he escapes and is adopted by Nina (Lily Day) on her quiet farm, growing up to be a gentle-giant bull. The problem is that the local villagers are terrified of his behemoth size, and he’s captured by animal control and taken back to the ranch. Now he’s competing with his childhood cohorts ( Bobby Cannavale , Anthony Anderson and Peyton Manning, plus David Tennant as a Scottish Highland bull) for a spot in a big upcoming Madrid bullfight. But Ferdinand just wants to get back to the flowers, so he enlists the help of goofy goat Lupe ( Kate McKinnon ) to escape again.

) is a young calf growing up on a ranch in Spain, being trained to become a fighter in the bull ring. But he’s far more interested in smelling the flowers. So he escapes and is adopted by Nina (Lily Day) on her quiet farm, growing up to be a gentle-giant bull. The problem is that the local villagers are terrified of his behemoth size, and he’s captured by animal control and taken back to the ranch. Now he’s competing with his childhood cohorts (

as a Scottish Highland bull) for a spot in a big upcoming Madrid bullfight. But Ferdinand just wants to get back to the flowers, so he enlists the help of goofy goat Lupe (

The central point about being true to your nature is important and moving, played with just the right balance of humour and sentimentality, especially as it makes a strong comment on choosing love over violence. But this message is somewhat watered down by the rather corny zaniness that fills the screen, including several massive action set-pieces that not only make very little sense but feel like scenes we’ve seen before. The characters are colourful enough to keep us smiling, but while the animation is technically adept it’s not hugely original (see also director Carlos Saldanha’s Ice Age movies), and it makes virtually no use of the 3D.

Still, the voice cast is solid, with Cena providing a nicely unfussy presence surrounded by more outrageous comedy characters. As the chatterbox sidekick, McKinnon gets to indulge in lots of hilarious verbal riffs. And Cannavale gives his bullying character a nice edge of insecurity. But the filmmakers seem desperate to amp up the energy levels far beyond reason, throwing in not one but two trios of wacky side characters: sneaky hedgehogs and poncy horses. Thankfully, the core story is so strong that we kind of tune out the noise, sit back and are genuinely moved by Ferdinand’s internal odyssey.

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Directed by Carlos Saldanha
Featuring the voice talents of John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Bobby Cannavale, David Tennant, Sally Phillips, Peyton Manning, and Daveed Diggs.

Featuring the voice talents of John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Bobby Cannavale, David Tennant, Sally Phillips, Peyton Manning, and Daveed Diggs.

Young Ferdinand is being trained to fight in the bull ring. But right from the start he’s not interested, preferring to enjoy the flowers. He escapes and grows up on a peaceful farm, but he’s so huge that when he goes to town as an adult for the first time, everybody assumes he’s aggressive, so he’s captured and returned to his original home. And then the country’s top matador, El Primero, comes to choose the best bull for his next fight ….

Ferdinand ‘s story goes back to the 1930s. The original children’s book, The Story of Ferdinand , was a slim volume about the young bull who preferred smelling flowers to fighting in the bullring. But, because of its apparent anti-war stance, it was banned by General Franco in Spain and in Germany, Hitler ordered it to be burnt. Arriving on the big screen, the modest yet massive bull has a taken a different direction.

, was a slim volume about the young bull who preferred smelling flowers to fighting in the bullring. But, because of its apparent anti-war stance, it was banned by General Franco in Spain and in Germany, Hitler ordered it to be burnt. Arriving on the big screen, the modest yet massive bull has a taken a different direction.

Director Carlos Saldanha and his writing team have taken quite a few liberties with the original, expanding the narrative and adding new characters. In the main, they work, although there are a few wobbles. The story now includes Ferdinand’s legendary fighting father, an idyllic farm and the flower-loving bull becoming a bigger hero than ever.

There’s new characters, like Angus (voiced by David Tennant), inevitably from Aberdeen (geddit?) not being able to see. Why? Because his long fringe hangs in his eyes. But when he bumps into everything, the laughs are few and far between because the solution is agonisingly obvious. Eventually, Ferdinand (the voice of John Cena) comes up with that very solution. Lupe (voiced by Kate McKinnon), the calming goat, is woefully under-developed. Apparently there to provide most of the comedy – in the same way as Shrek ‘s Donkey – she has a set of grotesquely crooked teeth, but otherwise doesn’t give McKinnon’s comedy talents to work on.

There’s new characters, like Angus (voiced by David Tennant), inevitably from Aberdeen (geddit?) not being able to see. Why? Because his long fringe hangs in his eyes. But when he bumps into everything, the laughs are few and far between because the solution is agonisingly obvious. Eventually, Ferdinand (the voice of John Cena) comes up with that very solution. Lupe (voiced by Kate McKinnon), the calming goat, is woefully under-developed. Apparently there to provide most of the comedy – in the same way as

‘s Donkey – she has a set of grotesquely crooked teeth, but otherwise doesn’t give McKinnon’s comedy talents to work on.

But the original’s tone, simplicity and sincerity remain intact so that, while this is a family adventure (complete with U certificate), there’s a surprisingly serious and thoughtful under current. That doesn’t mean there’s no action or laughs: there’s more than enough to keep the younger members of the audience happy, such as a train chase and a gleeful scene involving dancing horses. There’s also the inevitable bull in a china shop gag. But there are bigger issues to the fore as well, especially contemporary ones. The anti-war theme has been replaced by something closer to being true to yourself: standing apart from the crowd, in whatever way, is good.

And, while the story is set against a bullfighting background, that emerges as another theme. The once controversial Spanish national sport is now banned in Catalonia, but continues in other parts of the country and Ferdinand makes it very clear what happens to bulls that fight in the ring. The audience is spared the gory side of things, although Ferdinand’s blood in spilt in his fight with El Primero and he’s also on the wrong end of the matador’s sword.

And, while the story is set against a bullfighting background, that emerges as another theme. The once controversial Spanish national sport is now banned in Catalonia, but continues in other parts of the country and

makes it very clear what happens to bulls that fight in the ring. The audience is spared the gory side of things, although Ferdinand’s blood in spilt in his fight with El Primero and he’s also on the wrong end of the matador’s sword.

So Ferdinand isn’t necessarily the film you might expect. It doesn’t have the brashness and vibrant colour of Saldanha’s Rio films, nor the same level of energy, but it’s warm and compassionate and it’s hard not to respond in the same way. At a smidge under two hours, it’s longer than it needs to be, especially for the youngsters. But the adults won’t mind. As we get into cold weather, snuggling up in the warmth of a good-hearted movie like Ferdinand is just what we all need.

isn’t necessarily the film you might expect. It doesn’t have the brashness and vibrant colour of Saldanha’s

films, nor the same level of energy, but it’s warm and compassionate and it’s hard not to respond in the same way. At a smidge under two hours, it’s longer than it needs to be, especially for the youngsters. But the adults won’t mind. As we get into cold weather, snuggling up in the warmth of a good-hearted movie like

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Enough of that kind of bull. What the world needs now is Ferdinand, sweet Ferdinand, a rare breed of bovine who takes a stand against aggression, competitive rivalry and conforming to the expectations of others.

Alas, the box-office force will be with ” Star Wars: The Last Jedi ” this weekend, while audiences will likely continue to be loco for ” Coco ,” Pixar’s tribute to Mexican culture. Hence, one must admire whoever had the cajones to release this pacifist-leaning animated fable based on a beloved 1936 children’s picture-book about a “toro” whose muscular build belies his soulful nature. Instead of locking horns with other bulls or dodging a matador’s red cape, Ferdinand would rather stop and smell the posies–especially the red ones. As he asks his father, “Can I be the champion of not fighting?”

,” Pixar’s tribute to Mexican culture. Hence, one must admire whoever had the cajones to release this pacifist-leaning animated fable based on a beloved 1936 children’s picture-book about a “toro” whose muscular build belies his soulful nature. Instead of locking horns with other bulls or dodging a matador’s red cape, Ferdinand would rather stop and smell the posies–especially the red ones. As he asks his father, “Can I be the champion of not fighting?”

Fox’s ‘toon factory Blue Sky is often more of a stealth player when it comes to touting its family films as opposed to the chest thumping that Disney and DreamWorks embrace. But lowered expectations aren’t a bad thing at times. That is why “Ferdinand” comes as a mostly pleasant surprise in a year that has produced a lack of stellar animated outings and stands in stark contrast to less savory aspects of ” The Boss Baby ” and “The LEGO Batman Movie.” Yes, there is padding afoot in the plotting, including a group dance-off, a too-long chase through a crowded city as well as an excess of chatty critters. But instead of being crude and rude, director Carlos Saldanha –a veteran of the ” Ice Age ” franchise whose “Rio” films were love letters to his native Brazil–and his writing team chose to extol such virtues as respect for others, teamwork, kindness and following your dream even if you are being coerced to do otherwise.

Fox’s ‘toon factory Blue Sky is often more of a stealth player when it comes to touting its family films as opposed to the chest thumping that Disney and DreamWorks embrace. But lowered expectations aren’t a bad thing at times. That is why “Ferdinand” comes as a mostly pleasant surprise in a year that has produced a lack of stellar animated outings and stands in stark contrast to less savory aspects of “

” and “The LEGO Batman Movie.” Yes, there is padding afoot in the plotting, including a group dance-off, a too-long chase through a crowded city as well as an excess of chatty critters. But instead of being crude and rude, director

” franchise whose “Rio” films were love letters to his native Brazil–and his writing team chose to extol such virtues as respect for others, teamwork, kindness and following your dream even if you are being coerced to do otherwise.

When we first meet Ferdinand as a calf, he doesn’t join in the macho games and trash talk enjoyed by his corral companions. He’d rather nurture a pretty carnation that has sprouted in their training pen than brag about his future prowess in the ring. But when his father fails to return after being picked to face a matador, Ferdinand runs away and finds himself on a farm awash in fragrant buds and becomes a pet to Nina, a young girl who lives there with her dad. As in the source material, Ferdinand grows to immense proportions yet maintains his docile nature. But a run-in with a bee causes him to become atypically ferocious and he is sent back to train with his old buddies.

He is assigned a wonky-toothed, googly-eyed calming goat named Lupe ( Kate McKinnon , a stitch in hyper sidekick mode) who coaches the grown-up Ferdinand (infectiously voiced by wrestling superstar John Cena ) in the art of the fight. But her heavyweight contender has no interest in charging at a red cape, especially after he figures out that a bull either ends up going to the “chop shop”–a rather terrifying meat factory that is bluntly dealt with–or is sacrificed for the sake of blood sport in the ring. It’s the opposite of a win-win. But that doesn’t prevent Ferdinand from being selected as a worthy opponent by the revered matador El Primero (Miguel Angel Silvestre) for his farewell appearance in the arena and puts his resistance to the test.

, a stitch in hyper sidekick mode) who coaches the grown-up Ferdinand (infectiously voiced by wrestling superstar

) in the art of the fight. But her heavyweight contender has no interest in charging at a red cape, especially after he figures out that a bull either ends up going to the “chop shop”–a rather terrifying meat factory that is bluntly dealt with–or is sacrificed for the sake of blood sport in the ring. It’s the opposite of a win-win. But that doesn’t prevent Ferdinand from being selected as a worthy opponent by the revered matador El Primero (Miguel Angel Silvestre) for his farewell appearance in the arena and puts his resistance to the test.

There are some clever sequences that make the most out Ferdinand’s considerable girth and natural grace, including one that capitalizes on the cliche “bull in a china shop” with nifty choreographed slapstick that wouldn’t be out of place in a W.C. Fields comedy from the ’40s. Though it is brief, I was charmed by a sight gag where Ferdinand accidentally gets a caterpillar stuck in his nose and quickly sneezes it out in the form of a beautiful butterfly. While Nina’s shaggy dog Paco doesn’t quite get how he and Ferdinand can be brothers, as the bull claims, his wagging tail is an endearing tell that he obviously agrees. And while their presence in the movie is seemingly superfluous, there is a trio of vain mane-tossing Lipizzaners in the next field who try to outdo the other animals with their prance moves. When their exhausted leader, Hans (German comic Flula Borg ), flops to the ground, I admit to laughing when he declares, “I’ve fallen–and I can’t giddy-up.”

There are some clever sequences that make the most out Ferdinand’s considerable girth and natural grace, including one that capitalizes on the cliche “bull in a china shop” with nifty choreographed slapstick that wouldn’t be out of place in a W.C. Fields comedy from the ’40s. Though it is brief, I was charmed by a sight gag where Ferdinand accidentally gets a caterpillar stuck in his nose and quickly sneezes it out in the form of a beautiful butterfly. While Nina’s shaggy dog Paco doesn’t quite get how he and Ferdinand can be brothers, as the bull claims, his wagging tail is an endearing tell that he obviously agrees. And while their presence in the movie is seemingly superfluous, there is a trio of vain mane-tossing Lipizzaners in the next field who try to outdo the other animals with their prance moves. When their exhausted leader, Hans (German comic

I also admired whoever chose such an eclectic quartet of actors to speak for Ferdinand’s bullring buddies: Bobby Cannavale as brutish Valiente, Anthony Anderson as skinny Bones, football legend Peyton Manning as skittish Guapo and David Tennant of “Doctor Who” fame as Angus, who hails from the Scottish highlands. But what is truly amazing about this film is how thoughtfully “Ferdinand” questions male gender expectations, considering the form of the message also showcases a trio of goofy hedgehogs named Una ( Gina Rodriguez ), Dos ( Daveed Diggs ) and Cuatro ( Gabriel Iglesias ).

I also admired whoever chose such an eclectic quartet of actors to speak for Ferdinand’s bullring buddies:

of “Doctor Who” fame as Angus, who hails from the Scottish highlands. But what is truly amazing about this film is how thoughtfully “Ferdinand” questions male gender expectations, considering the form of the message also showcases a trio of goofy hedgehogs named Una (

The classic picture book “The Story of Ferdinand,” written by Munro Leaf and illustrated in inky black-and-white by Robert Lawson, tells the tale of a bull who would rather smell flowers than fight, even when he finds himself in the ring in Madrid. Published in 1936 with the Spanish Civil War on the horizon, the book, interpreted as pacifist propaganda, found enemies on both sides .

written by Munro Leaf and illustrated in inky black-and-white by Robert Lawson, tells the tale of a bull who would rather smell flowers than fight, even when he finds himself in the ring in Madrid. Published in 1936 with the Spanish Civil War on the horizon, the book, interpreted as pacifist propaganda, found enemies on

“Ferdinand,” the new computer-animated adaptation from Carlos Saldanha (the “Ice Age” movies), speaks to its own time in a different way, dutifully adhering to the template for contemporary children’s films while avoiding much personality or distinction. The be-yourself messaging is easy to comprehend. A growing-up montage is set to an original Nick Jonas song that sounds like ideal music to get put on hold to. The farm animals represent a cross-section of nations, from a Scottish Highland bull (voiced by David Tennant) to German horses. And the movie is bright and peppy enough to hold young viewers’ attention, though a faithful 1938 Walt Disney short showed more inventiveness in eight minutes.

the new computer-animated adaptation from Carlos Saldanha (the “Ice Age” movies), speaks to its own time in a different way, dutifully adhering to the template for contemporary children’s films while avoiding much personality or distinction. The be-yourself messaging is easy to comprehend. A growing-up montage is set to an original Nick Jonas song that sounds like ideal music to get put on hold to. The farm animals represent a cross-section of nations, from a Scottish Highland bull (voiced by David Tennant) to German horses. And the movie is bright and peppy enough to hold young viewers’ attention, though a faithful 1938 Walt Disney short showed more inventiveness in eight minutes.

The expanded adventures of Ferdinand (John Cena as an adult) find him encountering new friends, including a misfit goat (Kate McKinnon, whose freewheeling comedy style doesn’t register in the cartoon format) and three hedgehogs (Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs and Gabriel Iglesias). He buries the hatchet with the bulls who bullied him as a child. For some reason, Peyton Manning lends his voice to the one who always has an upset stomach.

Unlike in the book, Ferdinand earns the arena’s cheers for not fighting, but the crowd’s sense of surprise will elude audiences attending “Ferdinand.”

Writers
Robert L. Baird , Tim Federle , Brad Copeland

Stars
John Cena , Kate McKinnon , Bobby Cannavale , Jack Gore , Jet Jurgensmeyer

Genres
Animation , Adventure , Comedy , Family , Fantasy

A version of this review appears in print on December 15, 2017, on Page C14 of the New York edition with the headline: Ferdinand. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Children’s picture-book classic “The Story of Ferdinand ” may not be quite the literary phenomenon it was 79 years ago, when Walt Disney adapted Munro Leaf’s pacifist parable into an Oscar-winning animated short, but that doesn’t make the character — a Spanish bull who simply refuses to fight in the ring — any less relevant or endearing today. In fact, while the news cycle may have momentarily shifted away from the serious issue of bullying, what better way to address it with kids than via the story of an actual bull who’s picked on by his peers?

” may not be quite the literary phenomenon it was 79 years ago, when Walt Disney adapted Munro Leaf’s pacifist parable into an Oscar-winning animated short, but that doesn’t make the character — a Spanish bull who simply refuses to fight in the ring — any less relevant or endearing today. In fact, while the news cycle may have momentarily shifted away from the serious issue of bullying, what better way to address it with kids than via the story of an actual bull who’s picked on by his peers?

Of course, there’s a world of difference between a seven-minute short and a 108-minute feature, and Fox’s ” Ferdinand ” — which has been vibrantly brought to life by director Carlos Sandanha (“Rio”) and the team at Blue Sky, the company behind “Ice Age,” “Robots” and the recent Peanuts feature — strains at times, but in what’s been an underwhelming year for big-studio animation, it’s the best of the bunch: sincere, likable, surprisingly funny, and overall true to its source material.

Of course, there’s a world of difference between a seven-minute short and a 108-minute feature, and Fox’s “

” — which has been vibrantly brought to life by director Carlos Sandanha (“Rio”) and the team at Blue Sky, the company behind “Ice Age,” “Robots” and the recent Peanuts feature — strains at times, but in what’s been an underwhelming year for big-studio animation, it’s the best of the bunch: sincere, likable, surprisingly funny, and overall true to its source material.

Expanding upon Leaf’s themes rather than sauntering off in its own direction (the way Blue Sky did with the relatively disappointing “Horton Hears a Who!”), the story team on “Ferdinand” has wisely preserved the beginning and end of Leaf’s book, connecting the two via that age-old screenwriting challenge — namely, how to flesh out that long second act. However, instead of feeling like mere padding, the movie’s middle stretch is by far its most satisfying, featuring an entire cast of supporting characters and a wealth of entertaining interactions between them.

It’s here, at roughly the 30-minute mark that Kate McKinnon ‘s character, Lupe, makes her entrance. Like the Genie in “Aladdin” or Dory in “Finding Nemo,” she’s one of those comedic co-stars whose oversize personality steals the show — in this case, as a scrap-eating “calming goat” who’s anything but calm. Daffy, delirious and amusing just to look at with her wide eyes and poker-hand teeth, Lupe acts like a small-time boxing coach who’s finally got a shot at the heavyweight title. Except, Ferdinand has no interest in competing.

‘s character, Lupe, makes her entrance. Like the Genie in “Aladdin” or Dory in “Finding Nemo,” she’s one of those comedic co-stars whose oversize personality steals the show — in this case, as a scrap-eating “calming goat” who’s anything but calm. Daffy, delirious and amusing just to look at with her wide eyes and poker-hand teeth, Lupe acts like a small-time boxing coach who’s finally got a shot at the heavyweight title. Except, Ferdinand has no interest in competing.

That’s an understatement, actually. Ferdinand is the original cartoon sissy, and the prototype for an entire category of animated movie character (from “The Reluctant Dragon” to “Shark Tale’s” vegetarian hero) — which is to say, he would quite literally prefer to smell the flowers than engage in all the macho things the other bulls do. Whereas his brawny father is proud to be chosen for a high-profile bullfight, the young Ferdinand is described as “soft” by his peers. Except, as he grows up (to be voiced by John Cena ) and we come to know him better, Ferdinand actually demonstrates the strongest instincts of the lot.

That’s an understatement, actually. Ferdinand is the original cartoon sissy, and the prototype for an entire category of animated movie character (from “The Reluctant Dragon” to “Shark Tale’s” vegetarian hero) — which is to say, he would quite literally prefer to smell the flowers than engage in all the macho things the other bulls do. Whereas his brawny father is proud to be chosen for a high-profile bullfight, the young Ferdinand is described as “soft” by his peers. Except, as he grows up (to be voiced by

) and we come to know him better, Ferdinand actually demonstrates the strongest instincts of the lot.

One of the qualities that has made Leaf’s book such an enduring classic has been the fact that different readers have been able to project their own values onto Ferdinand over the years. To some extent, that ends here, as Saldanha and his team are obliged to define his character more specifically, but they’ve done such a marvelous job of it that he remains the kind of protagonist who’s a cinch to identify with — especially after the script reveals that every bull’s fate is either the “chop shop” or death by sword in the ring. Suddenly, Ferdinand’s cowardice starts to look like common sense.

Already an awkward fit for the screen’s widescreen format, Ferdinand’s size supports its own string of gags, including the laugh-out-loud bull-in-a-china-shop sequence and equally hilarious run-in with a tiny pink bunny featured in early trailers. Something doesn’t quite add up in the opening stretch (Ferdinand escapes the Casa del Toro and is taken in by a girl called Nina, who doesn’t age as her bull grows too big for the house), suggesting that there may have been heavy rewrites late in the game, though the group dynamics are golden once he’s among his kind.

The bulls have a long-running beef with the fancy show ponies in the neighboring field (led by heavily accented German comedian Flula Borg), which escalates to an elaborate dance-off, of all things. “Ferdinand” may have a serious message — “It looks like weird is the new normal,” argues a movie whose hero is a selfless, non-violent fella with the courage to do his own thing — but it never forgets that it’s a cartoon. As such, it’s free to indulge in the sort of silliness the medium so wonderfully supports (including the kind of squash-and-stretch gags that work best with jumbo creatures).

As big as Ferdinand may be, it’s mostly all heart, and it’s tough not to love a character who’s so instinctively concerned about everyone else’s well-being, from the carnation he waters as an uncertain young calf (in a rare break from other animated animals, Ferdinand is actually cuter as an adult) to the ultra-competitive rival bull(y), Valiente, who stomps the flower just to spite him. Borrowing relatively little from Robert Lawson’s original illustrations, all of these creatures have been designed to serve the story first, with any tie-in and toy considerations coming after the fact, and as such, there’s a purity to both their look and personalities.

Arriving in theaters a mere month after “Coco,” “Ferdinand” might feel less culturally engaged than Pixar’s colorful celebration of Mexico’s Dia de Muertos, although it should be noted that of the two, it’s the one with a Latino director (Saldanha hails from Brazil), while the ensemble boasts its share of Hispanic actors (including Gina Rodriguez and Gabriel Iglesias as two-thirds of a hedgehog trio, Bobby Cannavale in the role of Valiente, and Miguel Angel Silvestre as retiring matador El Primero).

Though “Ferdinand” takes place mostly in and around Madrid, not Mexico, better music (as opposed to Nick Jonas’ bland “Home” and John Powell’s serviceably generic score) would have gone a long way to enhance its heritage. As it is, audiences have to stick around halfway through the credits (past a bonus scene worth waiting for anyway) to hear anything that sounds remotely Latin. That said, the virtual locations, color palette, and voice work (including a few lines of Spanish-language dialogue) certainly reflect the world of bullfighting, even if the film’s existence could be very bad news for the already controversial sport.

What do you call a bull with no bullish parts? Why, Ferdinand of course. From Blue Sky Studios, the in-house animation unit at 20th Century Fox, the team that gave us six Ice Age and two Rio movies, comes a film that very carefully avoids confrontation with anatomical correctness.

What do you call a bull with no bullish parts? Why, Ferdinand of course. From Blue Sky Studios, the in-house animation unit at 20th Century Fox, the team that gave us six

After Ferdinand, a bull with a big heart, is mistaken for a dangerous beast, he is captured and torn from his home. Determined to return to his family, he rallies a misfit team on the ultimate adventure.

Ice skater Tonya Harding rises amongst the ranks at the US Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the sport is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervenes.

A biography of artist Frida Kahlo, who channeled the pain of a crippling injury and her tempestuous marriage into her work.

A well-to-do extended family visits their summer house for their annual seaside holidays. They come across a police investigation led by Inspector Machin looking into several disappearances of tourists in the area.

Sadistic pig hunter Mick Taylor (John Jaratt) sees an opportunity of a lifetime after a chance encounter with a coach full of tourists from around the globe.

Based on the Second Manchu invasion of Korea in 1636, where King Injo and his retainers sought refuge in the fortress located in Namhansanseong.

After Ferdinand, a bull with a big heart, is mistaken for a dangerous beast, he is captured and torn from his home. Determined to return to his family, he rallies a misfit team on the ultimate adventure.

That’s a long tradition in animation, I know – protecting the kiddies and all that – but what would be so wrong with admitting to children that animals have reproductive organs? He’s Ferdinand the bull, not Ferdinand the steer, after all.

The coyness feeds into the actual design. Ferdi is all front end, with a huge chest and forequarters. It’s largely to emphasise how big he becomes, but it also helps to obscure the tiny back end, where the offending articles would be noticeable, even if only by their absence.

Blue Sky seems to specialise in the younger end of the market – say under 10s – and with a fairly rigid formula: a set of talking animals on an adventure in an exotic part of the world.

The ages and sizes of the animals are calculated to appeal across the demographic spectrum, from the smallest child to just before they become tragically hip, and too grown-up for kids’ stuff.

The story is always driven by manic pacing, with lots of chases, highly physical humour (pratfalls), some catchy songs and a few knowing jokes for parents. One of the best of those is the scene where Ferdinand, trying to escape a mob in a small town, hides out in what turns out to be a china shop.

Younger kids and non-English speaking audiences might not get it, but it doesn’t matter. We can all see the problem, as Ferdinand tries to squeeze between high stacks of plates and glasses.

The book on which the film is based is venerable and venerated. Munro Leaf wrote the text in 1935, apparently as a way of showcasing the talents of his friend, the illustrator Robert Lawson.

The idea is so simple and elegant: a little Spanish bull prefers to smell the flowers rather than run around butting heads with the other young bulls in the pasture, near Ronda.

The others want to grow up to be strong and aggressive, so they will be chosen for the “corrida” – the bullfights in Madrid – because of course, what bull does not want to suffer a long and painful death by torture in public?

The movie never quite explains the nature of bullfighting either, because if it did, there would be a lot of hysterical children in the audience.

In the original book, the grown Ferdinand still refuses to fight. When he’s eventually dragged into the ring, he sits down and smells the flowers thrown by the crowd. They’re forced to take him home to a quiet life in the fields.

At the time, that pacifist message was enough to have the book banned in Hitler’s Germany and Franco’s Spain. In America, where isolationism was a part of US foreign policy, the book was selling 3000 copies a week in 1938.

It became the best-selling book of that year, knocking off Gone with the Wind , and it has never gone out of print. That’s a lot of what the Fox marketing boffins would call generational brand recognition. One question is why the rights ended up at Fox, when Disney won an Oscar for their short cartoon version in 1938?

, and it has never gone out of print. That’s a lot of what the Fox marketing boffins would call generational brand recognition. One question is why the rights ended up at Fox, when Disney won an Oscar for their short cartoon version in 1938?

This new version nods towards the Disney classic, but everything is bigger, brighter, louder and faster. Ferdi runs away as a calf and grows up in the care of a little farm girl, Nina (voiced by Lily Day), who’s devoted to him.

The accents are all over the place: four or five Hispanic-American actors voice some of the support roles but Ferdinand is prime American beef – voiced by John Cena, who sounds like a hulking American wrestler (because he is).

None of the story is surprising but it has charm and humour, and lots of colour and movement for the tots. Blue Sky has never managed to tap the emotional depths we see in Pixar animations, but perhaps they don’t want to. They’re more of a meat and potatoes outfit, if that’s not too insensitive a metaphor.

FERDINAND tells the story of a giant bull with a big heart. After being mistaken for a dangerous beast, he is captured and torn from his home. Determined to return to his family, he rallies a misfit team on the ultimate adventure. Set in Spain, Ferdinand proves you can’t judge a bull by its cover. From Blue Sky Studios and Carlos Saldanha, the director of “Rio” and inspired by the beloved book “The Story of Ferdinand” by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson, “Ferdinand” is a heartwarming animated comedy adventure with an all-star cast that includes John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Gina Rodriguez, Anthony Anderson and many more.

John Cena, Kate McKinnon, David Tennant, Bobby Cannavale, Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning, Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, Gabriel Iglesias

The children’s book The Story Of Ferdinand was a commercial success upon publication in 1936, outselling Gone With The Wind to become the No. 1 bestseller in the United States. Written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson, the book follows a peaceful bull who would rather smell flowers than battle matadors, garnering the ire and confusion of Spain in the process. At the time, many read The Story Of Ferdinand as a political allegory and thought it promoted nefarious values: It was famously banned in Spain after supporters of Francisco Franco believed it to be a pacifist tract; Hitler burned copies of the book, calling it “degenerate democratic propaganda”; and others thought it embodied fascism, communism, and other violent, disreputable political ideologies. Although Leaf has said that his book was merely “propaganda for laughter,” The Story Of Ferdinand ‘s nonviolent philosophy has at least something to do with its enduring legacy. After all, not every children’s book was given out for free in Germany to promote peace following the country’s defeat in the war.

to become the No. 1 bestseller in the United States. Written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson, the book follows a peaceful bull who would rather smell flowers than battle matadors, garnering the ire and confusion of Spain in the process. At the time, many read

as a political allegory and thought it promoted nefarious values: It was famously banned in Spain after supporters of Francisco Franco believed it to be a pacifist tract; Hitler burned copies of the book, calling it “degenerate democratic propaganda”; and others thought it embodied fascism, communism, and other violent, disreputable political ideologies. Although Leaf has said that his book was merely “propaganda for laughter,”

to do with its enduring legacy. After all, not every children’s book was given out for free in Germany to promote peace following the country’s defeat in the war.

The best thing that can be said about Ferdinand , Blue Sky Studios’ extremely loose adaptation of Munro’s book, is that it tries to advocate for the same values as the source material, albeit by way of “Just be yourself!” pabulum that’s part and parcel with many kids movies. The plot, such as it is, allows for Munro’s viewpoint to shine amid the various irritations the film puts its audience through. After a young Ferdinand learns that his father has been killed in the ring, he escapes the fight-or-die bull training camp of his youth only to be picked up by a father-daughter duo who bring him to live on their farm. The years pass and Ferdinand grows into a strapping bull (voiced by an affable enough John Cena), but sure enough, society’s perceptions of his menace outweigh evidence of his gentle personality. He’s hauled back to the camp after an incident involving a bee and Ferdinand in a china shop (the film’s most inspired, but nevertheless obvious sight gag), where he must put his principles to the test to save himself and the other bulls in the camp.

Blue Sky Studios’ extremely loose adaptation of Munro’s book, is that it tries to advocate for the same values as the source material, albeit by way of “Just be yourself!” pabulum that’s part and parcel with many kids movies. The plot, such as it is, allows for Munro’s viewpoint to shine amid the various irritations the film puts its audience through. After a young Ferdinand learns that his father has been killed in the ring, he escapes the fight-or-die bull training camp of his youth only to be picked up by a father-daughter duo who bring him to live on their farm. The years pass and Ferdinand grows into a strapping bull (voiced by an affable enough John Cena), but sure enough, society’s perceptions of his menace outweigh evidence of his gentle personality. He’s hauled back to the camp after an incident involving a bee and Ferdinand in a china shop (the film’s most inspired, but nevertheless obvious sight gag), where he must put his principles to the test to save himself and the other bulls in the camp.

Ferdinand ‘s most saccharine moments end up being its most potent, even if they’re often more cloying than emotional. When a young Ferdinand meekly asks his father if it’s okay that they don’t share the same dream to fight, his measured but defeated response about “the world not working like that” rings true in its shortsightedness. Later, Ferdinand comforts a fellow bull crying about his friend being sent away to a chophouse, essentially telling him that it’s normal to express emotions other than aggression. But Ferdinand ‘s best moment comes when the gentle bull finally enters the ring: His gesture of peace in the face of violence has legitimate juice, so much so that it’s a shame the film only knows merely how to handle the moment rather than amplify it.

‘s most saccharine moments end up being its most potent, even if they’re often more cloying than emotional. When a young Ferdinand meekly asks his father if it’s okay that they don’t share the same dream to fight, his measured but defeated response about “the world not working like that” rings true in its shortsightedness. Later, Ferdinand comforts a fellow bull crying about his friend being sent away to a chophouse, essentially telling him that it’s normal to express emotions other than aggression. But

‘s best moment comes when the gentle bull finally enters the ring: His gesture of peace in the face of violence has legitimate juice, so much so that it’s a shame the film only knows merely how to handle the moment rather than amplify it.

While socially conscious adults in the audience will pick up on Ferdinand ‘s pointed jabs at toxic masculinity and social prejudice, they will likely be bored stiff by the general mediocrity–and so might their kids. The one-note, start-and-stall narrative feels especially prolonged, perhaps to justify a feature-length adaptation of a heavily illustrated book, or most likely to include as many half-baked chase or fight sequences as possible. Furthermore, the film is almost devoid of humor beyond the occasional funny face or well-executed line ( Ferdinand ‘s insistence that haughty, condescending German horses are the height of comedy scans as an inside joke gone awry). Then there’s Blue Sky’s blandly colorful computer animation, which has barely evolved since the premiere of Ice Age 15 years ago; although the studio succeeds at rendering landscapes with painterly composition, everything else is a grab bag of vague, oppressively bright images that say as little as possible. Even the voice acting, often a pleasant showcase in these affairs, leaves a lot to be desired, with the possible exception of Kate McKinnon, whose own shtick stands out mostly because it’s in sharp contrast to the film’s vibe.

‘s pointed jabs at toxic masculinity and social prejudice, they will likely be bored stiff by the general mediocrity–and so might their kids. The one-note, start-and-stall narrative feels especially prolonged, perhaps to justify a feature-length adaptation of a heavily illustrated book, or most likely to include as many half-baked chase or fight sequences as possible. Furthermore, the film is almost devoid of humor beyond the occasional funny face or well-executed line (

‘s insistence that haughty, condescending German horses are the height of comedy scans as an inside joke gone awry). Then there’s Blue Sky’s blandly colorful computer animation, which has barely evolved since the premiere of

15 years ago; although the studio succeeds at rendering landscapes with painterly composition, everything else is a grab bag of vague, oppressively bright images that say as little as possible. Even the voice acting, often a pleasant showcase in these affairs, leaves a lot to be desired, with the possible exception of Kate McKinnon, whose own shtick stands out mostly because it’s in sharp contrast to the film’s vibe.

Faced with familiar story tropes and lowest-common-denominator bids for attention, anyone over the target demographic might ask themselves a multitude of questions as the mind inevitably wanders. Some might be fairly benign: “Is that Peyton Manning voicing a bull whose primary trait is self-sabotage?” or “Could Blue Sky not afford either the Rolling Stones or Soup Dragons’ version of ‘I’m Free’ so they settled for Pitbull’s ‘Freedom,’ which just samples the chorus?” Others could be slightly graver, like, “Is Ferdinand ‘s non-violent agenda at odds with its implied belief that society’s elites have largely rigged existence to be an endless catch-22?” But the most suitable question is certainly, “Why settle for a tired Fox Animation movie when a Pixar film is playing right next door?”

Faced with familiar story tropes and lowest-common-denominator bids for attention, anyone over the target demographic might ask themselves a multitude of questions as the mind inevitably wanders. Some might be fairly benign: “Is that Peyton Manning voicing a bull whose primary trait is self-sabotage?” or “Could Blue Sky not afford either the Rolling Stones or Soup Dragons’ version of ‘I’m Free’ so they settled for Pitbull’s ‘Freedom,’ which just samples the chorus?” Others could be slightly graver, like, “Is

‘s non-violent agenda at odds with its implied belief that society’s elites have largely rigged existence to be an endless catch-22?” But the most suitable question is certainly, “Why settle for a tired Fox Animation movie when

It’s no Coco , but Ferdinand , a CG-animated adaptation of the classic 1936 Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson book about a flower-loving bull who’d rather sniff than fight, manages to squeak by with enough charming set-pieces and amusing sight gags to compensate for a stalling storyline.

, a CG-animated adaptation of the classic 1936 Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson book about a flower-loving bull who’d rather sniff than fight, manages to squeak by with enough charming set-pieces and amusing sight gags to compensate for a stalling storyline.

Nimbly choreographed by Carlos Saldanha, marking the seventh Blue Sky feature he has either directed or co-directed, with John Cena agreeably voicing the role of the “peace-a-bull” protagonist, the Fox release should handily hit the bullseye with targeted holiday family audiences when it charges into theaters next weekend.

Although the Leaf book, featuring Lawson’s whimsical ink drawings, has been translated into more than 60 languages, many will also be familiar with the seven-minute 1938 Disney adaptation, Ferdinand the Bull , which would take home the Oscar for best short subject (cartoons).

Although the Leaf book, featuring Lawson’s whimsical ink drawings, has been translated into more than 60 languages, many will also be familiar with the seven-minute 1938 Disney adaptation,

Stretching the subject matter onto a feature-length canvas, the production kicks off in Casa del Toros, a bull training camp in rural Spain from which young Ferdinand bolts upon learning his dad never returned from a trip to that Madrid arena. He finds idyllic refuge on a farm belonging to Juan (singer Juanes), whose daughter Nina (Lily Day) makes a pet out of the docile creature until he grows to an enormous, threatening size (cue Mr. Cena) and is subsequently seized by the authorities and delivered back to Casa del Toros, where a bull becomes either a fighter or meat.

Not fond of either of those options, and with the famous bullfighter El Primero (Miguel Angel Silvestre) eyeing him for his farewell appearance, Ferdinand plots an escape with the assistance of Lupe, a decidedly hyper calming goat (the always dependable Kate McKinnon), and a trio of hedgehogs named Uno, Dos and Cuartro (Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs and Gabriel Iglesias) who prefer not to speak of the absent Tres.

There are moments of comic delight to be found here, like a literal “bull in a china shop” sequence, as well as the foppish antics of a trio of Lipizzaner horses (voiced by Boris Kodjoe, Flula Borg and Sally Phillips). But the plotting — the script is credited to Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle and Brad Copeland — admittedly takes a while to find its footing, and even when it does, the stop-start momentum never quite rises to the occasion.

The visual renderings, including those pastoral vistas, with all the bright green rolling hills and sunny azure skies, are certainly pleasing to the eye, and the characters, particularly the formidable Ferdinand, inhabit those vibrant spaces with a lithe grace.

The voice work is similarly nimble, but although Cena and McKinnon are terrific, it might have been nice to have heard Hispanic actors in the lead roles rather than just the supporting ones.

Likewise, a golden opportunity seems to have been missed with the soundtrack, where, of the three original songs, two are performed by Nick Jonas, reserving the third for Juanes. In a year when Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” smashed chart records the world over, it might have been a better plan to hear how Ferdinand and company would do it down in Madrid or Toledo.

Production companies: Fox Animation, Blue Sky Studios, Davis Entertainment
Distributor: Fox
Cast: John Cena, Kate McKinnon, David Tennant, Gina Rodriguez, Peyton Manning, Bobby Cannavale, Anthony Anderson, Jerrod Carmichael, Flula Borg, Daveed Diggs, Jeremy Sisto, Raul Esparza, Sally Phillips, Boris Kodjoe, Gabriel Iglesias, Miguel Angel Silvestre.
Director: Carlos Saldanha
Screenwriters: Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle, Brad Copeland
Producers: John Davis, Lori Forte, Bruce Anderson
Executive producer: Chris Wedge
Director of photography: Renato Falcao
Editor: Harry Hitner
Music: John Powell C
Casting director: Christian Kaplan

Cast: John Cena, Kate McKinnon, David Tennant, Gina Rodriguez, Peyton Manning, Bobby Cannavale, Anthony Anderson, Jerrod Carmichael, Flula Borg, Daveed Diggs, Jeremy Sisto, Raul Esparza, Sally Phillips, Boris Kodjoe, Gabriel Iglesias, Miguel Angel Silvestre.

A young bull named Ferdinand (John Cena) lives in Casa del Toro, where he and other bulls are being raised for the bullfighting ring. Ferdinand, however, is gentle and kind with a love of flowers and no desire to fight. One day, he escapes from the Casa and ends up at a farm where he meets a girl called Nina (Lily Day). The two become best friends and over the years, Ferdinand grows into a great animal whose large size does not reflect the sensitive soul inside. One day, following a calamitous visit to the local town, he is taken away from Nina and brought back to the Casa of his childhood.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Disney has set the bar high for animated features. Ferdinand was recently nominated for the Best Animated Picture Golden Globe and it really doesn’t stand a chance,* but this is largely because there are some things that Disney just does better than other studios. These include the quality of its animation and writing, the creativeness of its characters and the warm, gooey feeling the studio’s films leave you with. Ferdinand is lacking in all these areas.

There’s nothing particularly interesting or creative about the concept of a gentle bull and John Cena (unlike he has done with comedic roles in the likes of Daddy’s Home and Trainwreck) doesn’t really bring anything as the voice of the character. Kate McKinnon is a bit of fun as the goat Lupe, but as is the case with Cena, isn’t left with much to do with the script. There are simply too many characters between bulls, horses, a goat, hedgehogs and humans, none of which are particularly well-rounded or interesting, and some of which don’t even make sense (why are the horses German? Why is there a Scottish bull? Why do all the human characters have Spanish accents bar one English policeman?).

Bambi seems to have been a source of inspiration in Ferdinand’s love of flowers and resistance to fighting (as well as a certain life-changing event at the start of the film), and the relationship between him and Nina is painted in a heart-touching way. However, the narrative gets messy from the return to Casa del Toro on and as well as this plethora of characters, we have a prison break narrative in the third act as well as an attempt to provide a commentary on the immorality of bullfighting (Ferdinand learns that ‘the bull never wins’, a message he must pass onto his bullfight-eager companions) while portraying a totally sanitised, bloodless version of the real thing for the sake of young viewers. It leaves audience with a sense of discomfort more than outrage or even hope.

Ferdinand will likely come and leave cinemas, leaving no real impression on anyone. It’s fine if you’re totally stuck for something to bring the kiddies too but there are other, better movies out.

*On a side note, it’s great to see Irish animation The Breadwinner nominated as well as the revolutionary Loving Vincent.

Ferdinand will likely come and leave cinemas, leaving no real impression on anyone. It’s fine if you’re totally stuck for something to bring the kiddies too but there are other, better movies out.