Directed by Carlos Saldanha.
Featuring the voice talents of John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, Gabriel Iglesias, Bobby Cannavale, David Tennant, Anthony Anderson, Flula Borg, Sally Phillips, Boris Kodjoe, Jerrod Carmichael, Raúl Esparza, Karla Martínez, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Peyton Manning, and Juanes.
After Ferdinand, a bull with a big heart, is mistaken for a dangerous beast, he is captured and torn from his home. Determined to return to his family, he rallies a misfit team on the ultimate adventure.
Bookended by a charming beginning and ending, Ferdinand loses its way through the middle stretch quickly becoming the type of animated feature every critic dreads watching and writing about. Abandoning it’s all-age accessible themes regarding going against what one is perceived to be or destined to do, a number of loud and obnoxious talking animals are introduced, all containing thinly sketched personalities (such as a wacky and eccentric goat that could only be played by Kate McKinnon, a cross between a bull and a sheep with hair draped over his eyes impairing his vision voiced by David Tennant using his Scottish accent, and more) that occasionally sing and dance to eye-rolling irritation.
This is doubly frustrating as John Cena actually does a delightful job providing the voice work for the titular Ferdinand, an oversized bull fascinated by flowers with the least bit of interest in fighting. Cena is able to bring a warmth and gentleness to the loveable lug that is much in line with his true-to-life personality. The WWE poster-boy looks like he’s chiseled out of stone, but underneath the bulky exterior is one of the largest hearts you could ever find in a person. I say this also having met the man. Simply put, Cena is right as Ferdinand, and this is his strongest acting work yet despite the questionable quality surrounding the rest of the feature.
Unfortunately, this is just what happens when you assign six different writers to adapt any children’s book, let alone Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson’s The Story of Ferdinand for it to be directed by a mediocre filmmaker (Carlos Saldanha of Ice Age popularity). The tones never really feel at odds with one another, but more like certain writers were tasked with writing specific sections. When Ferdinand finds his way into a home as a pet (he even considers the family’s actual pet dog his brother) and is growing both physically and mentally, uncovering that bulls can choose to be lovers instead of fighters, it’s cute to watch. Also, a sequence where the rest of the outside world still sees him as an untamable beast (Ferdinand has a destructive accident in public, complete with an on-the-nose but funny ‘bull in a china shop’ sequence) stings a little.
As a result, he is taken back against his will to the bullfighting ranch of his earliest calf memories, which was filled with unnecessary bullying from the other youngsters and is also the place he touchingly had to part ways with his father. It’s here though where Ferdinand decides to bombard viewers with familiar grown-up animals, new additions, and a lackluster plot that seemingly wants to condemn bullfighting but never really takes any footsteps in doing so outside a slight attempt during the ending. Anything of substance is lost in dance numbers set to mainstream pop music, and it’s as annoying as one would expect. Even the humor goes the lowbrow route, with David Tennant’s Scottish bull accidentally directing his voice to a goat’s ass because he can’t see. And don’t even get me started on some of the terrible pun-based dialogue from a trio of fashionable German horses.
Ferdinand seems to have all the ingredients to be an animated feature that appeals to children and adults but is a case where the filmmakers didn’t want to put forth enough effort to ensure it did. They settle for cheap humor and laughs while John Cena does everything in his power to inject some emotion and distinctive personality into the proceedings. The same could be said for the entire cast (all of the supporting players from Kate McKinnon to NFL legend Peyton Manning are serviceable for the material they are given), but the plot misses its mark like a matador dodging a bull.
At the very least, you could say it’s beautifully animated with high attention to detail (especially whenever animals interact with mud or other properties). Also noticeable is the resemblance of facial features to some of the actors counterparts, mainly Cena with various mouth movements, smiles, and general expressions. It probably sounds weird on paper but actually works at adding a small extra layer of personality to multiple characters. However, terrific visuals aren’t an indicator of overall success factoring in that every major animated feature is aesthetically stunning nowadays, so it’s not as big of a compliment as it seems.
Again, it’s still one strictly for the kids that are sure to grate most older viewers. There are also far worse animated films featuring talking and singing animals though, so it’s not too disastrous. The only good that has come out of Ferdinand is the definitive proof that Cena is a great voiceover performer. Hopefully, he will receive similar roles. Cena does his best acting when you can’t see him.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com