This animated comedy adventure is based on the beloved children’s book, which was published in 1936 and first adapted for the big screen by Walt Disney in an Oscar-winning 1938 short. Thankfully, that warm, funny story is preserved in the middle of this animated feature, stretched out with lots of the usual slapstick and action mayhem. So while the silly, pointless mayhem will keep children giggling, it’s the story’s big heart that makes it worth seeing.
Ferdinand (voiced by John Cena) is a young calf growing up on a ranch in Spain, being trained to become a fighter in the bull ring. But he’s far more interested in smelling the flowers. So he escapes and is adopted by Nina (Lily Day) on her quiet farm, growing up to be a gentle-giant bull. The problem is that the local villagers are terrified of his behemoth size, and he’s captured by animal control and taken back to the ranch. Now he’s competing with his childhood cohorts (Bobby Cannavale, Anthony Anderson and Peyton Manning, plus David Tennant as a Scottish Highland bull) for a spot in a big upcoming Madrid bullfight. But Ferdinand just wants to get back to the flowers, so he enlists the help of goofy goat Lupe (Kate McKinnon) to escape again.
The central point about being true to your nature is important and moving, played with just the right balance of humour and sentimentality, especially as it makes a strong comment on choosing love over violence. But this message is somewhat watered down by the rather corny zaniness that fills the screen, including several massive action set-pieces that not only make very little sense but feel like scenes we’ve seen before. The characters are colourful enough to keep us smiling, but while the animation is technically adept it’s not hugely original (see also director Carlos Saldanha’s Ice Age movies), and it makes virtually no use of the 3D.
Still, the voice cast is solid, with Cena providing a nicely unfussy presence surrounded by more outrageous comedy characters. As the chatterbox sidekick, McKinnon gets to indulge in lots of hilarious verbal riffs. And Cannavale gives his bullying character a nice edge of insecurity. But the filmmakers seem desperate to amp up the energy levels far beyond reason, throwing in not one but two trios of wacky side characters: sneaky hedgehogs and poncy horses. Thankfully, the core story is so strong that we kind of tune out the noise, sit back and are genuinely moved by Ferdinand’s internal odyssey.
Watch the trailer for Ferdinand: