Ferdinand Light on Its Feet without Side-Stepping Real Consequences
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2017 13 Dec
Lighthearted on the surface, Ferdinand tells a familiar story of triumph while navigating some darker elements. Although this animated kids flick doesn't break new ground, it should prove diverting for younger viewers. 3.5 out of 5.
Ferdinand (John Cena) is a bull with a big heart, but all anyone can see is the "big" part. When he's not being teased and taunted by other bulls, Ferdinand is terrifying civilians (other than his beloved caretaker Nena (Julia Saldanha) and her father). After Ferdinand heads to town for a flower festival, a misunderstanding leads to his separation from Nina and to a life on a bull ranch, where he fights for bull bragging rights with fellow bulls Valiente (Jack Gore), Guapo (Jet Jurgensmeyer) and Bones (Nile Diaz). They all hope to earn the high honor of taking on the matador (director Carlos Saldanha).
There's just one problem: Ferdinand prefers flowers to fighting. When attempts by his bull-headed friends to toughen him up push Ferdinand to a bigger stage than the bull ranch, he learns the truth about bullfighting: The bull never wins, and those deemed unworthy of the matador end up at the "chop house." Empowered with his newfound knowledge, Ferdinand feverishly tries to save his prideful friends—and himself—from those eventual outcomes.
This is a story about a gentle soul pushed to be meaner and tougher than he would otherwise be, but it also shows how sticking to one's principles, even in the face of threats, can ultimately be rewarding. Acceptance and tolerance are honored, while the grimmer elements of the story (death is the outcome for these bulls, one way or the other) are handled sensitively, without hiding or disguising the realities.
The finale is preceded by an endless chase sequence. Your mileage with such antics may vary, but I was ready for the chase to end long before it finally did—and there was still a climactic bull fight left to go! Thankfully, that last stretch is less predictable and more heartfelt than the run-up to it, allowing the film to end on a warm note rather than leaving viewers feeling worn down.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
The film is set in Spain, which is predominantly Catholic. When Ferdinand lands atop a coffin, nuns standing over the coffin are terrified, and later, a group of hedgehogs, remembering a friend, cross themselves. When a bunny appears to be dead, characters try to resuscitate the animal, and one shouts, "Don't go into the light!" Another character exclaims, "Thank holy goodness!" and "Holy cow!"
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: PG for rude humor, action and some thematic elements
- Language/Profanity: Bullying and taunting; a goat exclaims, "holy beefaroni!"; a crude joke about fertilizing the yard; a bull with poor eyesight is told he's speaking at other bulls' "butts."
- Sexuality/Nudity: None.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: Headbutting; a bee sting leads to a rampage; a baby carriage is tossed as a bull tries to retrieve it; an electric fence shocks a bull, once without the bull's knowledge and then later with the bull understanding what will happen; a revelation from one bull to another that "if you're not the best, you're meat"; a bull loses one of his horns; the bulls fear a trip to the "chop house," and they later save one of their own from death in the chop house; a car crash.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Pre-teens and even some older viewers who aren't too demanding will find much to smile at, even laugh aloud at, in Ferdinand. It's not great, but it's far from a punishing sit.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Sensitive viewers who can't find a way to laugh at a story where death is a threat to animals.
Ferdinand, directed by Carlos Saldanha, opens in theaters December 15, 2017. It runs 106 minutes and stars John Cena, Jeremy Sisto, Kate McKinnon, Bobby Cannavale, Julia Saldanha, Carlos Saldanha, Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning and David Tennant. Watch the trailer for Ferdinand here.
Christian Hamaker brings a background in both Religion (M.A., Reformed Theological Seminary) and Film/Popular Culture (B.A., Virginia Tech) to his reviews. He still has a collection of more than 100 laserdiscs, and for DVDs patronizes the local library. Streaming? What is this "streaming" of which you speak? He'll figure it out someday. Until then, his preferred viewing venue is a movie theater. Christian is happily married to Sarah, a parent coach and author of Hired@Home and Ending Sibling Rivalry.
Publication date: December 13, 2017
Image courtesy: ©20thCenturyFox/BlueSky