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Ferdinand (John Cena) - Review

Ferdinand

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

A PASSION project for its director, Carlos Saldanha, who has taken 10 years to bring it to the big screen, animated movie Ferdinand is a family-friendly heart-warmer that wins you over in spite of its flaws.

Adapted from the 1936 children’s book The Adventures of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson, and which has previously been turned into the 7-minute 1938 Oscar-winning short Ferdinand the Bull by Disney, this nevertheless retains a contemporary resonance for older audiences aware of the blood sport it depicts, and a beauty and charm that will delight kids of most ages.

The story focuses on a flower-loving bull named Ferdinand (voiced by WWE fight star John Cena), who would rather bask in a field than take on matadors, despite being raised at Casa del Toro, a ranch dedicated to raising premium fighting bulls for the nearby Madrid arena.

When one day he is able to escape and finds himself adopted by a farmer (Juanes) and his beloved daughter (Katie Silverman), Ferdinand looks to have found the perfect life… until an accident at a flower fayre sees him mistaken for a dangerous beast, recaptured and sent back to Casa del Toro for a date with destiny.

While back on the ranch, however, Ferdinand makes friends with a calming goat (Kate McKinnon), some fellow bulls and a trio of hedgehogs and bids to help them all escape.

Admittedly, there are times when Ferdinand does feel like a stretch given the relative simplicity of its story. A few of the supporting characters, such as a trio of Lipizzaner horses, feel pointless and needlessly OTT, not least when they are called upon to take part in a completely unnecessary dance off sequence.

And the soundtrack itself can be intrusive, especially when pumping out some of its bigger dance numbers.

But while these certainly feel like padding to help the film attain feature length, they fortunately can’t dent the goodwill that audiences will have built towards the main characters up to that point.

Ferdinand is a hugely endearing central character, whose plight is well worth sympathising with. And while adults, in particular, will be mindful of the grim reality of a bull’s life, the film refrains from showing anything too graphic or harrowing in a way that might traumatise kids like the death of Bambi‘s mum. Bad things do happen but they’re off-camera and no less poignant for it.

Instead, Saldanha floods his film with imagery that is beautiful (not least when indulging Ferdinand’s passion for flowers) and set pieces that are filled with slapstick fun and visual ingenuity.

One set piece revolving around ‘a bull in a china shop’ is genuinely inspired, while there are plenty of sequences and gags that elevate proceedings whenever the story itself threatens to sag, including a belated chase sequence around the streets of Madrid that kids, especially, will love.

Cena does OK in the central role, without injecting too much charisma, while several of the supporting cast also impress, with David Tennant’s Highland Bull and Bobby Cannavale’s chief Ferdinand tormentor Valiente particularly on-form.

Hence, while never quite managing to reach the heights of the best animated movies, which exist to think outside the box, Ferdinand is content to revel in more traditional values and, as such, emerges as a winner on its own terms. It’s a genuinely nice experience that the whole family can enjoy.

Certificate: U
Running time: 1hr 46mins
UK Release Date: December 9, 2017

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