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"FERDINAND"
(2017) (voices of John Cena, Kate McKinnon) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Animated Comedy: An oversized bull who doesn't believe in violence must contend with being sent to a ranch that raises bulls for bullfighting.
PLOT:
As a young bull, Ferdinand (voice of COLIN H. MURPHY) is being raised at Casa del Toro, a bullfighting ranch run by Sr. Moreno (voice of RAUL ESPARZA). Unlike the other child bulls there and their fathers, Ferdinand has no interest in bullfighting or any sort of violence for that matter. And thus when his father is chosen to fight in Madrid but never comes back, Ferdinand runs away from the camp, escapes on a train, and ends up on a farm filled with his favorite things -- flowers -- where a young girl, Nina (voice of LILY DAY), becomes his best friend.

With the passage of time, however, Ferdinand (voice of JOHN CENA) has now grown into a monstrosity of a bull, although he's still as passive as ever. But when a bee stings him on the rear and he causes a great deal of accidental damage to a market and scares everyone there in the process, he's captured and sent away -- back to Case del Toro. There, he's paired with a calming goat, Lupe (voice of KATE McKINNON), who isn't very good at her job, and finds himself back in the company of his childhood bull acquaintances.

While the likes of Bones (voice of ANTHONY ANDERSON) and Guapo (voice of PEYTON MANNING) are intimidated by Ferdinand's size, Scottish bull Angus (voice of DAVID TENNANT) can't see him and genetically modified Maquina (voice of TIM NORDQUIST) acts like a robot, Valiente (voice of BOBBY CANNAVALE) takes up with his bullying of Ferdinand from where he left off.

Valiente is determined to be chosen to battle legendary bullfighter El Primero (voice of MIGUEL ANGEL SILVESTRE) and thus repeatedly puts Ferdinand in his place, as do a trio of Austrian or German show horses -- Hans (voice of FLULA BORG), Greta (voice of SALLY PHILLIPS), and Klaus (voice of BORIS KODJOE) -- who live in the next corral over. But along with Lupe who now considers Ferdinand her best friend, the pacifist bull finds allies in a trio of hedgehogs -- Una (voice of GINA RODRIGUEZ), Dos (voice of DAVEED DIGGS) and Cuatro (voice of GABRIEL IGLESIAS) -- who live on the ranch and help conspire to free him from that facility.

With El Primero wanting the best bull to battle in Madrid and setting his sights on Ferdinand, the bull must do what he can to escape that situation, especially when the alternative is to be sent to the chop house for beef processing.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Have you ever had one of those "what were they thinking" moments? You know, when something seems so obvious -- usually in hindsight or removed from the decision-making process -- that you can't believe you now find yourself asking that very question?

I had just that during the opening moments of "Ferdinand," a computer-animated comedy where we witness a bunch of youngster bulls already competing to be the alpha dog, um, bovine of the group, obviously imitating their dads who are competing for the honor of fighting a matador before a huge crowd in Madrid.

As that scenario was swung in front of viewers like a bullfighter's red cape, two questions immediately came to mind: "Do the kids who will be watching this know what happens to the bulls in real life?" and "Are the filmmakers some sort of cinematic sadists who want to torture said children by exposing them to the realities of the situation?"

Okay, providing such answers isn't a bad idea (minus the sadism angle), but there's probably a better time and venue than a kids movie featuring an underdog (yeah, I went there again) bull who could quite likely meet his comeuppance.

Granted, I wasn't familiar with the 1936 novel "The Story of Ferdinand" on which this offering is based (and that was the best selling title in the U.S. in '38). Had I been, I would have known the tale was about a pacifist bull who'd rather smell and frolic in fields of flowers than ever step foot in a bullfighting ring, let alone take on a matador and his bevy of bull-ending weapons.

Of course, it didn't take long for the script -- penned by Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle, and Brad Copeland who've adapted Munro Leaf's original work -- to show that's where the plot was headed. Accordingly, I sighed a breath of relief and put away my accusatory "WWTT" thoughts and settled in for what turns out to be a highly entertaining and uplifting if somewhat predictable ride.

That said, it doesn't shy away from the themes of bullying and trying to be persuaded and convinced by others that violence is the only choice and solution for one's place in life. And it does address some of those aforementioned and likely troubling aspects of bullfighting via some of the revelations about the title character's father not returning from being selected and other later related discoveries.

It's the first part of that tale that gets the storyline moving forward as young Ferdinand decides to flee from the bull ranch where he's been raised and bullied -- get it? -- by other bulls. He ends up on a lovely farm with a lovely young girl as his best friend. But then he grows up into an enormous but still peace-loving, flower sniffing character (voiced by John Cena) when a bee sting on his rump sends him rampaging through a market, accidentally causing damaging and scaring the you know what out of the locals.

He's then captured and sent away, only to end up back where he originally started, with the former bullies still there -- and still bullying him despite being dwarfed by his enormity. The alpha -- Valiente (voiced by Bobby Cannavale) -- sees their options as fight or be sent to the chophouse. Ferdinand thinks otherwise, and with the aid of a calming goat (Kate McKinnon doing some of her usual "Saturday Night Live" vocal shtick) and three small hedgehogs (voiced by Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, and Gabriel Iglesias), he wants to escape once again.

But there's a big bullfight coming up featuring a legendary matador (voiced by Miguel Angel Silvestre) -- and to no one's surprise our big hero ends up facing him. All of that might sound heavy and maybe unsettling, and it could be just that for some sensitive younger viewers. But director Carlos Saldanha lassos up more than enough humor (including a literal bull in a china shop sequence), goofy characters, action and shenanigans to offset any potentially upsetting moments. Vocal work is strong across the board the computer animation is ravishing in its detail.

While I really didn't expect the film to toy with kids and then trample their idealism with the realities of bullfighting, I'm happy the film ends up being quite entertaining and enjoyable. "Ferdinand" rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed December 9, 2017 / Posted December 15, 2017


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