Ferdinand (2017) REVIEW – A Load of Bull?

John Cena voices a bull. That should be all you need to know to watch Ferdinand.

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Ferdinand is an adorable animated film that sends the important message of accepting everyone for who they are.

For the second time in a one-month period, an animated film touches upon Hispanic culture. In this instance, however, Ferdinand tells the story of a bull who doesn’t want to fight. Not only does he not want to fight, but the other bulls tease him for not wanting to take part in the traditional career. Ferdinand would rather be doing other things like playing with flowers.

Based on the classic book by author Munro Leaf and illustrator Robert Lawson, Ferdinand is one of a few family-friendly offerings this late in the year suitable for young children. The story is being brought to the big screen through the vision of director, Carlos Saldanha, who created Rio and directed many Ice Age films. Saldanha directs from a screenplay written by Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle, and Brad Copeland.

Being teased by the other bull calves and not knowing what happened to his father, Ferdinand decides to run away and manages to find refuge at the home of a farmer and daughter. It’s there where the calf grow up into a large bull and also shares the affection of the family dog, Paco.

Ferdinand is essentially the kid that’s bullied in elementary school, eventually moves and heads to college before coming back to his old stomping grounds as the biggest guy on campus. Ferdinand doesn’t want to conform with what it means to be a bull and that’s perfectly fine. He should be accepted for who he is, not for what others want him to be.

For a film taking place in Spain, there are some questionable decisions in the casting of the voice actors. It’s nothing against those actors per se, but it’s more so with regards to the actors that aren’t of Latin descent in a Spanish-speaking country. Take SNL star Kate McKinnon, for example. The actress gives 110% in everything she does but one can’t help but think that maybe –just maybe– her character could have been played by an actress with Latin heritage. The casting of Peyton Manning as Guapo shows that there could be a future for him outside of a football career. There are many members of the film’s voice cast who are not of the aforementioned Latin background. For the sticklers of authentic casting, it could in turn take away from the film’s overall message of acceptance.

This isn’t to take away anything from the film’s casting on screen as they have display chemistry with each other. Even though he’s not of Latin descent, Cena brings to the titular bull what filmmakers were looking for: someone who can be strong but in touch with their gentle side.

The visuals, inspired by Spanish landscape, consist of earth tones; a contrast from what was seen in the Rio franchise. CG technology keeps improving every year and Ferdinand isn’t a film that’s heavy on special effects, but animated films take some time to come together with the right art direction and lighting. The farm gives off a happy vibe while the bull training camp feels more like a prison.

At a time when toxic masculinity is so prevalent in the culture, a film like Ferdinand gets released and reminds people of how wrong it is to be so toxic. Given the value of kindness taught by both films, Ferdinand could serve as a complementary film as a double feature with the recently released Wonder. It’s a film that’s fun for the whole family to enjoy and get a learning lesson at the same time.

20th Century Fox Animation and Blue Sky Studios open Ferdinand in theaters on December 15, 2017.

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