Review: ‘Ferdinand’ (pacifist bull)

You will believe a big-hearted bull who refuses to fight won’t be dinner later.

Having escaped his father’s bullfighting legacy to a peaceful flower farm outside of a Spanish town, Ferdinand (voice of John Cena) is a prize bull who’d rather sniff flowers than impale an opponent waving a red cape. When a mishap during a festival gets Ferdinand nabbed and returned to the stables he once escaped from, his old stablemates see him as competition. With the assistance of a helpful but hyper goat named Lupe (Kate McKinnon), Ferdinand plots to escape, save his friends, and return to the little girl he grew up with. Unfortunately, renowned bullfighter El Primero (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) already has his sights on the bull he wants to fight — publicly and to the death — before retiring undefeated.

Considering how short the book upon which this movie is based, a lot of plot and characters needed to be created to expand the concept into a 108-minute film. The advertising features actor/wrestler John Cena as the voice of the adult Ferdinand and appears to be relying heavily upon fans of the children’s story. With so many new elements expanding a short book into a full film, are there enough Ferdinand and/or John Cena fans to pack seats in theaters?

While it often seems Hollywood is bankrupt of new ideas for movies and continues remaking old semi-recognizable fare, here’s a film which goes for broke to create a family friendly animated film… and a surprisingly good one at that. While it doesn’t compare to the complexity and depth of Pixar’s Coco, it does fill the bill for a good story done in an original way with all the zany animals-who-can-only-talk-to-themselves tropes intact. Considering the subject matter and pacifist ideals of a creature known for causing total destruction (insert mandatory china shop joke here), the story relies on the aforementioned heart in a believable way that both kids and adults can get behind.

Cena does fine as the title character, but Kate McKinnon’s Lupe steals every scene she’s in in pretty much the same way McKinnon herself does in any production. If you think a bull who prefers flowers to violence is complex, Lupe runs in full-on ADHD mode, distracted yet driven and going from elated to sorrowful in the span of a sentence; it’s hard to imagine anyone else who could have voiced the character and it would be a treat watching her lay those tracks down. Other scene stealers include Hans, Greta, and Klaus, three show horses who think they’re all that and then some.

Come for the bull and stay for the goat, but be prepared to get hit in the feels. Ferdinand is rated PG for rude humor, action, some thematic elements, and one tiny bumble bee minding its own business.

Three skull recommendation out of four

Speak up, Mortal -- and beware of Spoilers!

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