Thursday, December 14, 2017


2017 wasn't the best year for animation. Although there are several solid films, including two from Disney/Pixar, there was no clear standout. Based on the 1938 children's story, Ferdinand is another solid animated feature which is surprisingly moving coming from Blue Sky Studios (best known for the more comedic Ice Age franchise) as the combination of six writers work to build out the simple story of a bull who would rather smell the flowers than fight, into a feature film. The result is a funny, but also unexpectedly clever (including the best possible bull in a China shop joke) and heartfelt, film.

Opening with early scenes to showcase how unusual Ferdinand is from other young bulls, the film fast-forwards through a montage to a grown-up Ferdinand (John Cena) forced to leave his peaceful life in the country, and the little girl who loves him (Lily Day), and rejoin the life he previously escaped. Wrestler John Cena may seem an unusual choice for the lead, but the larger-than-life character (who likely knows something about being a bit too large for the world around him) proves to add just the right touch to the character of a ginormous bull with a peaceful spirit.

As you'd expect in a Blue Sky Studios production there's plenty of offbeat characters. Some work quite well, such as Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, and Gabriel Iglesias as a trio of hedgehogs who know how to get things done. Some have their moments, such as Kate McKinnon as the crazy billygoat Lupe who acts as our comic relief and Anthony Anderson, David Tennant, Bobby Cannavale, and Peyton Manning as other bulls more concerned with earning their spot in the ring than Ferdinand. And others are more problematic, such as the pretentious show ponies Flula Borg, Sally Phillips, and Boris Kodjoe who, of course, will no doubt be put in their place.

The adapted story by the combination of Ron Burch, David Kidd, Don Rhymer, Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle, and Brad Copeland, must deal with some dark themes including the tragic ends of bulls who earn their spot in the arena against the matador (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) and those who miss the cut only to be carted off to the slaughter house. That's pretty dark for a children's movie where the main character is voiced by a WWE wrestler. Director Carlos Saldanha tightropes the issues well, both honoring the cultural tradition and providing Ferdinand with all the more incentive to stay true to himself. A nice moral, a story that will pull at your heartstrings, and plenty of wacky comedy, in a weak year for animation Ferdinand may well be the champ of the ring.

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