When the movie begins, it has all the trappings of Bambi (1942), The Lion King (1994), or even The Good Dinosaur (2015), a story about a child-like animal that loses its parent and is set off on a journey of self-discovery. As the movie goes along, it hits beats similar to Chicken Run (2000) and Finding Dory (2016) about imprisoned animals trying to escape their human-captors. It’s fun to think about what animals might do if they were anthropomorphized, which is mainly realize they’re food who are going to be killed in some horrible way. On that basic level, it’s easy to sympathize with the animals. This basic level was challenged in the recent Okja, which was about a little girl and her pet pig that was actually the size of an elephant. This movie is also about a little girl and her pet. Except, her pet is a bull that is also the size of an elephant. Both Okja and this movie have the little girl be separated from her pet with the goal by the end to get them back together. Okja was a slight criticism of the food industrial complex, as this movie is a slight criticism of bullfighting. It’s odd though that the criticisms in both films fall apart in similar ways.
John Cena (Trainwreck and 12 Rounds) stars as the voice of Ferdinand, an extra large bull in Spain who is adopted by a little girl named Nina, voiced by Lily Day. He basically just eats the fruits and vegetables on the farm that Nina’s father manages. He gets fat and only frolics in the field of flowers, which are his favorite things. Ferdinand is basically treated like a pet no different than Nina’s sheep dog, except Ferdinand grows to weigh a ton or about 900 kilograms.
People believe that Ferdinand should be bred to be in a bullfighting ring. People think he’s a monster or a beast that should battle a matador. Ferdinand doesn’t want to fight. He just wants to stop and smell the roses, as well as cuddle with Nina. Other bulls are resigned to being warriors, but Ferdinand is more sensitive and is basically a pacifist. This flies in the face of bullfighting, which is a popular sport in Europe, especially in Spain, but the conclusion here seems to suggest that the sport shouldn’t be engaged, if not done away all together.
Based on a 1936 children’s book by Munro Leaf, an American author who may or may not be of Spanish descent, this movie plays a few notes that go beyond the book. Yet, even if it didn’t, the movie suggests that not only would Ferdinand be happy if he weren’t bullfighting but also the movie suggests that everyone else would be happy if there weren’t any bullfighting. Crowds at the end cheer when the bullfighting stops. It’s not as if the crowds are simply acknowledging Ferdinand’s lone pacifism. When other bulls arrive to the arena, no one encourages the fight to continue with other bulls. The sentiment suggests no bull should fight, thus no more bullfighting.
Directed by Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age and Rio), it’s excellent if this film is siding with animal rights activists and those who push for making these kinds of blood sports illegal. It’s unfortunate that it does so in such a cute manner as to drain the blood from the blood sport. I’m not advocating for this animated feature to display blood or bloody wounds, but there simply is a lack of seriousness to this film that any broader issues are lost. For most adults watching, the disappearance of Ferdinand’s father signals his death, which is never shown. At least in The Lion King, we see Simba’s father fall to his death. Here, we have to assume like Ferdinand what has happened. Showing it isn’t necessary but it would have underscored the stakes.
There are euphemisms and hints to the fact that these animals are being killed, but, for the most part, this movie stays kid-friendly. This is in-line with most animated films, particularly those from Blue Sky Studios. The movie simply never underscores the danger at hand. The movie revels in the silly and the goofy. It doesn’t punctuate the heart and soul as well as it should. For example, Ferdinand befriends a calming goat named Lupe, voiced by Kate McKinnon. A moment of affection and love between Lupe and another character fell flat. I never felt it. Instead, we get one too many butt jokes that got less and less funny the more there were. There’s the obvious bull-in-a-china-shop gag, as well as the obvious running-of-the-bulls joke that wasn’t as clever as they were lame.
Rated PG for rude humor and action.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 48 mins.