“Ferdinand”, the latest animation feature film from Blue Sky Studios, is predictable but entertaining work coupled with nice lessons for its target audiences. While it is hampered by its thin plot and weak characterization at times, the film mostly works thank to several inspired funny scenes and a number of engaging voice performances, and I had a fairly good time with it even though I was distracted by its flaws from time to time.
The story of the film is mainly about Ferdinand (voiced by John Cena), a bull who is far more docile than he looks on the surface. Even when he was a little calf living in a ranch somewhere in Spain, he was not particularly interested in bullfighting while usually more interested in enjoying peace and flowers, and that certainly drew the ridicules from his fellow calves eager to be as big and prominent as Ferdinand’s father.
On one day, Ferdinand’s father was selected for an upcoming bullfighting match. He was confident that he would come back with victory, but, of course, he never came back, and Ferdinand was devastated by that. Eventually, Ferdinand escaped and then went far away from the ranch, and that is how he came to be under the care of Juan (voiced by Juanes) and his little daughter Nina (voiced by Lily Day). Because Juan had run a flower farm, he and Nina could provide an ideal new home for Ferdinand, and Ferdinand was certainly happy about that.
After several years, Ferdinand becomes a big, ginormous bull, but he is still adored by Nina, and he also enjoys hanging out with Nina’s dog Paco (voiced by Jerrod Carmichael), whom he has regarded as a sort of brother. While annoyed at times by Ferdinand’s cheerful attitude, Paco cannot possibly disregard Ferdinand’s sweet nature, and that is amusingly reflected by one small funny moment involved with his wagging tail.
While appreciating lots of colorful flowers in the farm as usual, Ferdinand is eager to go to the flower festival to be held in a nearby town as he did with Juan and Nina many times before, but Juan decides not to take Ferdinand to the festival this time because he thinks Ferdinand is now too big for that, and both Nina and Ferdinand are disappointed. Not long after Juan and Nina leave for the festival, Ferdinand comes to decide to go to the festival for himself, but, as you have already guess, that turns out to be a disastrous decision. Right from when he enters the town, he quickly draws the attention of many people in the town, and they are all alarmed by his presence. In addition, he inadvertently causes a big commotion after being stung by a bee at one point, and we get a hilarious slapstick moment apparently inspired by that familiar phrase associated with bull and china shop.
After that commotion, Ferdinand is immediately captured by the police and then sent to the very ranch from which he escaped a long time ago. Besides his old stablemates Bones (voiced by Anthony Anderson), Guapo (voiced by Peyton Manning), and Valiante (voiced by Bobby Cannavale), he encounters two other bulls named Maquina (voiced by Tim Nordquist) and Angus (voiced by David Tennant), and he also comes to befriend Lupe (voiced by Kate McKinnon), a ‘calming goat’ who is willing to coach Ferdinand on bullfighting.
In the meantime, the situation becomes quite serious in the ranch as an important guest comes. He is a famous matador named El Primero (voiced by Miguel Ángel Silvestre), and he is going to select a suitable bull for his farewell event to be held in Madrid. While Valiante and other bulls in the ranch are determined to try as much as they can for being selected by El Primero, Ferdinand keeps sticking to his pacifistic position, but, not so surprisingly, he soon finds himself chosen by El Primero in the end, and he comes to see later that he must do something for not only him but also his fellow bulls.
The film often trudges down its expected narrative course, but it constantly provides humorous moments to us. I was surely tickled by a trio of hedgehogs voiced by Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, and Gabriel Iglesias, and I did have some chuckles as watching the impromptu dance showdown between our bull characters and a trio of haughty Lippizan horses. Although the vehicle chase sequence during the second half of the film is a little too overlong in my inconsequential opinion, it is packed with a substantial amount of wits and energy at least, and the following climax part is handled well with enough humor and drama to engage us, though we can clearly see from the beginning that how it will eventually end.
Director Carlos Saldanha, who was the co-director of “Ice Age” (2002) and “Robots” (2005) and recently directed “Rio” (2011) and its 2014 sequel, assembled an impressive array of performers for his film. John Cena, who previously showed his considerable comic talent in “Trainwreck” (2015), is earnest and amiable in his excellent voice performance, and he is complemented well by the loony chirpiness of Kate McKinnon, who has a lot of fun with many silly moments of her character. The other cast members are also effective in their respective supporting roles, and the special mention goes to David Tennant, who virtually steals the show with his exaggerated Scottish accent.
“Ferdinand”, which was recently nominated for Best Animated Feature Film Oscar, is based on Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson’s children’s book “The Story of Ferdinand”, which was also the basis of Oscar-winning Disney short animation “Ferdinand the Bull” (1938). While relatively less distinctive and memorable compared to its fellow Oscar nominees “Coco” (2017), “The Breadwinner” (2017), and “Loving Vincent” (2017), the film is still recommendable considering its good elements, and I appreciate its sincere storytelling and lively moments. It is familiar and predictable indeed, but I had enough entertainment at least, so I will not grumble here for now.