'Ferdinand': Film Review

Not quite Ole, but better than OK.

John Cena makes for a formidable Ferdinand in this CG take on the not-so-cocky bull story.

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.

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).

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

Rated PG, 107 minutes