While it may not be on par with “Coco,” it’s no bull to say that “Ferdinand” is a fine choice for animated family entertainment.
It doesn’t quite match the caliber of the 1938 Walt Disney short film “Ferdinand the Bull,” which earned a well-deserved Academy Award. (Want to see it? Visit youtube.com and look it up — it’s not quite eight minutes of wonderful animation.)
The inspiration for both films is the beloved “The Story of Ferdinand” by Munro Leaf with marvelous drawings by Robert Lawson, a children’s book first published in 1936. It tells the story of a fierce-looking but gentle bull who prefers to sit quietly and smell flowers rather than fight.
Ferdinand is shown as a bull who, as a youngster, is, well, bullied. The other bulls mock him. There’s a scene in which he is shown caring for a flower, only to have it destroyed by another young bull. Valiente (Bobby Cannavale) is especially cruel, saying "You're either a fighter or you're meat."
John Cena provides the voice of Ferdinand as an adult bull (whose appearance is not dissimilar to Cena’s). He lives happily with a little girl and her father —that is, until he is mistaken for a fierce beast. While Ferdinand experiences a series of misadventures that take him ever closer to the bullfighting ring, he makes the acquaintance of a goofy “calming goat” (Kate McKinnon) who is anything but calming, and three hedgehogs (Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs and Gabriel Iglesias).
He also becomes reacquainted with the group of bulls that made him so unhappy when he was young (one of the bulls is voiced by Peyton Manning).
Director Carlos Saldanha, who is known for the first three “Ice Age” movies, along with “Rio” and “Rio 2,” is good at helping the audience focus on the plight of the animal characters and the need for friendship and teamwork.
The characters are lovingly drawn, and the backgrounds are full of activity and color, so this will be engaging to young viewers and adults alike. I also enjoyed the song “Home” by Nick Jonas and the lilting score.
The script contains a lot of comedy. I enjoyed seeing the arrogant German dancing horses get their comeuppance, as well as Ferdinand’s moments in a China shop (clever and sweet).
Parents should take note of some dark moments in the story that allude to what happens to bulls who don’t fight … or even those who do.
This isn’t as magical as “Coco” on a neighboring screen. But it’s fun, and its anti-bullying message is earnest and vital: It’s OK to be yourself.