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Ferdinand Movie Review

Ferdinand (2017) movie poster Ferdinand

Theatrical Release: December 15, 2017 / Running Time: 107 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Carlos Saldanha / Writers: Ron Burch, David Kidd, Don Rhymer (screen story); Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle, Brad Copeland (screenplay); Munro Leaf, Robert Lawson (book)

Voice Cast: John Cena (Ferdinand), Kate McKinnon (Lupe), Anthony Anderson (Bones), Bobby Cannavale (Valiente), David Tennant (Angus), Gina Rodriguez (Una), Peyton Manning (Guapo), Miguel Angel Silvestre (), Jerrod Carmichael (Paco), Flula Borg (Hans), Juanes (Juan), Daveed Diggs (Dos), Boris Kodjoe (Klaus), Gabriel Iglesias (Cuatro), Jeremy Sisto (Ferdinand's Father), Karla Martinez (Village Mother)


In 1938, a year after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs broke them into the feature-length game,
Walt Disney's animation studio released Ferdinand the Bull, a charming little Oscar-winning eight-minute short adapting Munro Leaf's recent children's book. Nearly seventy years later, on the verge of becoming a disposable part of the Disney family should the acquisition of parent company 21st Century Fox go through, Blue Sky Studio gives us Ferdinand, an overlong new computer-animated feature telling the same story in a way that deserves no Oscar nominations.

The film opens with Ferdinand a young calf who is far more interested in flowers than fighting. As a resident of Spain's Casa Del Toro, though, botany isn't a viable career choice for young Ferdinand, a point his father (voiced by Jeremy Sisto, sounding a lot like Thomas Haden Church) makes before going to Madrid to be in a fight and never returning. Ferdinand's peers, including the boastful Valiente and undersized Bones, are more excited about their calling. But Ferdinand sneaks out of the bull ranch and winds up on the farm of a father and daughter where he quickly becomes a happy member of the family.

That life-changing incident involving a bumblebee occurs in a market's annual festival, where Ferdinand has snuck out to join the beloved father and daughter as he has in years past. The bee stings Ferdinand and out of surprise more than anything else, the now-massive adult (now voiced by wrestler John Cena) puts fear in the hearts of everyone in the marketplace. The scene created, which also finds Ferdinand delicately navigating a china shop (get it?), has the enormous bull sent back to Casa Del Toro, where he meets Lupe (Kate McKinnon), a calming goat who sees training him to be a great fighter as her mission.

But Ferdinand isn't interested in fighting and neither is the movie. Instead, he reconnects with his childhood peers and meets a number of new characters including snobbish German show ponies, a trio of hedgehogs who dance to Pitbull, and a Scottish bull (David Tennant) whose moptop keeps him from seeing his surroundings clearly. Eventually, this production is headed to Madrid for a patience-taxing climax that places Ferdinand in the ring with El Primero (Miguel มngel Silvestre), the greatest and most adored of all matadors.

In Blue Sky Studios' "Ferdinand", Ferdinand the pacifist bull returns to Casa Del Toro and meets calming goat Lupe, who dreams of training him to be a champion fighter.

For a long time, Blue Sky was the third biggest studio in American computer animation, trailing Pixar and DreamWorks by a healthy margin. Now, there's budget blockbuster factory Illumination Entertainment, Warner Bros.' Lego-heavy animation division, the sometimes respectable Sony Pictures Animation, and, oh yeah, Disney in the midst of their biggest winning streak since their '90s hand-drawn renaissance.

With the Ice Age franchise having worn out its welcome in spectacular fashion at least in North America and audiences not exactly clamoring for a third Rio, Blue Sky has kind of faded from the scene. Their identity has been diluted since 2013, when Fox launched a distribution deal with DreamWorks. DreamWorks, which faces its own challenges having been humbled by underperformers like Turbo and Penguins of Madagascar, will move to Universal starting with 2019's How to Train Your Dragon 3, where they'll be sharing a parent company with a more commercially formidable rival in Illumination. Should Disney's purchase of Fox go through, however, Blue Sky seems like a commodity to sell, their library not having the luster and prestige of Disney and Pixar's own esteemed catalogs and their commercial prospects paling in comparison to the other brands in Bob Iger's "go big or go home" playground.

Ferdinand does not make a compelling case for Blue Sky's significance. The company's success has always seemed a product of timing, with the first Ice Age having opened uncontested in the spring of 2002 after Shrek, Monsters, Inc., and the first Best Animated Feature Oscar made CGI features an industry onto itself. The appeal of the utterly mediocre Ice Age and its increasingly bad sequels always eluded me, but the public, and especially the moviegoing public outside of North America, voiced approval with their wallets. The other half of the Blue Sky library -- the two Rio movies, Robots, Epic, The Peanuts Movie, and Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! -- ranged from mild to moderate diversion, able to withstand artistic comparison to only the three weakest efforts in Pixar's 19-deep catalog. Why would Disney, who has severed ties with Robert Zemeckis' ImageMovers, passed on a Gnomeo & Juliet sequel, and even hit the brakes on their second-tier DisneyToon Studios productions, have any need for that as an active studio?

In this scene, Ferdinand is literally a bull in a china shop.

Ferdinand finds Blue Sky again content to make mid-range entertainment, the kind that gathers a chuckle or two from parents with wit, a handful of laughs from kids with physical gags,

light applause from a Saturday morning advance screening crowd whose only pay was their time, and nothing in lasting artistic value. The film exhibits the same characteristics that keep the studio's other non-sequel works in the 6 to 7 out of 10 range. The characters are obnoxious. Their designs are unappealing and so too is the animation. Jokes are forced and rarely funny. When you consider how long animated movies take to make and how many people have hands in them, it's astonishing you can't find more than a handful of clever or inspired moments here, especially since at 107 minutes, Ferdinand runs so much longer than it needs to.

Blue Sky hasn't had earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature since the original Ice Age fifteen years ago. Even with awards-savvy timing on its side (and a Golden Globe nod earned this week), Ferdinand shouldn't change that. Not every animated film has to be on the level of Pixar's greatest masterpieces, but there have been plenty of really high quality films over the past few years from a number of animation studios, which shows this could and should have been a lot better.

Related Reviews:
In Theaters: Coco • Star Wars: The Last Jedi • The Shape of Water • Wonder Wheel • The Post
Blue Sky Studios: Rio • Epic • The Peanuts Movie • Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas Special • Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs • Horton Hears a Who!
2017 Animation: The Lego Ninjago Movie • Rock Dog • The Lego Batman Movie
Ferdinand the Bull (1938): Disney Rarities • Classic Short Films - Volume 6: The Reluctant Dragon • Timeless Tales, Vol. 2

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Reviewed December 14, 2017.

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