Written By Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle and Brad Copeland
Composed By John Powell
Produced By John Davis, Lisa Marie Stetler, Lori Forte and Bruce Anderson
Edited By Harry Hitner
Directed By Carlos Saldanha
Based on the classic children's book by Munro Leaf with illustrations by Robert Lawson, the story of 'Ferdinand' became the definitive tale that gave the lesson of not judging a book by its cover and how it's better to be peaceful than to always get angry and pick a fight...for many decades, kids and adults alike fell in love with the large and seemingly intimidating bull that only wants to smell flowers instead of bullfighting. For animation fans however, they would be more familiar with the 1938 Oscar-winning Disney cartoon 'Ferdinand The Bull': sure it has a cheesy tone geared more for kids but with the help of its solid animation and dedication to stay true to the story's message, the short would go on to become a timeless classic in the Silly Symphony collection-that and it'll always be remembered as the only time that Walt Disney himself would voice a cow. But now that Blue Sky is taking a turn to tell the tale in a feature-length film, will it give us the same feeling as smelling flowers or will we end up as angry as the matador in the story? Let's find out, this is 'Ferdinand'!
FERDINAND: Ferdinand is a young bull who escapes from a training camp in rural Spain after his father never returns from a showdown with a matador. Adopted by a girl who lives on a farm, Ferdinand's peaceful existence comes crashing down when the authorities return him to his former captors. With help from a wisecracking goat and three hedgehogs, the giant but gentle bovine must find a way to break free before he squares off against El Primero-the famous bullfighter who never loses.
Considering how this is one of those movies based on a children's book, it doesn't have a lot of material to work with-I mean, how do you turn a small book in a movie that's just a little less than two hours...well it does have a solution, but maybe not the best one: while the story of this movie does get into the book at the beginning and at the end, everything else in between is just your typical 'find a way back home' story where the main character doesn't like his new environment while meeting new friends and learning a lesson then having a big chase scene to ultimately reach his goal. If there is one big issue to point out with the plot itself, it's not really by its originality but rather how it would constantly drag some scenes just so it could be feature-length and serve as long distractions for kids to have them stay still: I do get that they can serve a purpose to progress the plot, but they often feel like they go on for a while like when Ferdinand would sneak out as well as the inevitable chase scene along with breaking out the prisoners and the dance battle as well as when Ferdinand goes to the village. What's even worse is how the story itself is already predictable as it is, the fact that some scenes would take its time to roll out just makes it feel annoying as if it would make audiences say 'okay, I get the purpose of this...can we move on to the next part?'. However if there's something more important here than the story, it would have to be the message since that is the reason why Ferdinand is so popular. In this movie, the moral of peace over fighting is still present and does give this film a bit of heart but it does feel like it would rather do a commentary on bullfighting and it can often get overshadowed by the humor. For the latter, it can be mixed where it does have its funny moments but a lot of it feels more like it's pandering exclusively to kids...and when it's not funny, it gets irritating.
Despite its many faults, I'll give it that it's not a bad looking film since the animation does prove its worth with the way that it handles the natural and urban side of Spain. Just like how Blue Sky handled Rio to bring the city to life, the film would present a lot of its plane fields and the use of flowers to bring out some colors to know where are the more peaceful and happier places that Ferdinand would want to be on top of nailing the architecture that would mix the traditional and modern look of the Spanish city-it also helps that the score by John Powell helps capture the feeling of the country, this is also a great contrast to the dark places that Ferdinand would want to avoid like the ranch where it's dirtier and chewed up while being a lot less saturated in color. As for the designs, it's a blend of realistic anatomy and a cartoony style: the animations like the bulls each have their own unique look but still stay true to how they are anatomically built with maybe the exception of the hedgehogs. For the humans, they would have a more abstract look on them that's strange but thankfully they're not the focus of attention here and I will add that what does help the designs is the strong use of detail and texture from every petal on a flower to the quills of the hedgehogs to the fur on the bulls...they actually help define the visuals and make it one of the better looking animated films of the year. Then you have the character animation, I sense that this is probably the movie's biggest selling point in terms of the animation because honestly there isn't anything else that would make this film visually stand out from any other animated film of its kind since it's quite noticeable how the animators did work hard on this film considering what the scenes would demand from them...but then again as well done as they can be, it can happen when the characters' acting would feel over the top especially if it would require them to dance but that's a problem with the directing more so than on the visuals themselves.
Before this film was made, all we had as characters were just Ferdinand along with his mom and the matador and that was all you need to tell a sweet and simple tale...but this movie on the other hand goes into the Ice Age sequel route and share it with a lot of comic reliefs. However before I get into that, let's start off with the big guy himself Ferdinand: unlike in the source material, he's not fully passionate about smelling flowers-in fact he's more of a house pet than an animal from the wild, he's just an all-around good guy who's modest about himself and his size and is more of a pacifist who doesn't want to live up to what bulls normally do although he's been given a surprisingly solid performance by John Cena...there's nothing much outside of him that would be defined other than a generic protagonist. Along his adventures would include other bulls that Ferdinand knew as a kid like Guapo, Bones, Angus, Maquina and Valiente-although not the most complex or even the most original characters, these guys each have their own personality and relationship with Ferdinand that would not only make them stand out individually but have a bit of charm that would have audiences leave with at least one favorite from the pack. But then you have the other animals where they can turn something sweet into a terribly annoying experience: I don't think I've ever wished a goat to just shut up more so than with Lupe, I get that she's the loner that no one likes and wants to be friends with the main character but she thinks that humor works by talking a lot and acting goofy non-stop. There are also the hedgehogs that are the sneaking experts and the German horses that like to dance and think that they're better than the bulls, both of which are also equally annoying and make a whole bunch of unfunny jokes. I'd even throw in the matador in this just by how over the top he would act to show that he's the villain and says how he's the best at what he does. If the movie would only have the bulls and the humans, it would've been fine...but with all these extra characters, they would end up giving this film more problems than solutions.
Overall, 'Ferdinand' is like if you would watch a peaceful bull in a bullfighting ring...you do appreciate its good heart, but you're not gonna get much out of it since the movie took a classic book that's been beloved by many generations and turn it into a feature-length of mediocrity. Sure it's not a bad film thanks to the good animation and having a bit of the spirit from the original story, but it also has some big problems with its weak writing in a predictable story that can feel like it would linger on and having too many unfunny comic reliefs and one-dimensional characters. At the most if you're familiar with the story of Ferdinand, this is only worth a rental...outside of that, it's probably best to either stick with the book or the Walt Disney cartoon since at least you'll get a lot more substance and save a lot of time than just sit through this. It's actually kinda perfect how they put Ferdinand in that china shop because that's probably the best way to describe this movie: no matter how careful he can be to keep the place nice and clean, it'll still end up with some broken plates...and that is why 'Ferdinand' gets a rating of a 5.5 out of 10