Directed by Carlos Saldanha.
Featuring the voice talents of John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Bobby Cannavale, David Tennant, Sally Phillips, Peyton Manning, and Daveed Diggs.
Raised as a fighting bull, destined for the stadiums of Spain, Ferdinand (John Cena) is a pacifistic beast that wants to do anything but square up to the country’s El Primero matador. He runs away to a small provincial farm, where he lives an idyllic life and befriends a young girl, but finds it harder to escape his ultimate fate in the ring.
Ferdinand is a strange beast indeed. Based on the 1936 novel The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, it takes some time adjusting to the fact you’re watching a kids movie in which a brutal blood sport is the backdrop to the story. Ferdinand should be lauded for the anti-bullfighting stance it takes throughout the film, even if it feels a bit too self-contained. Ferdinand’s story might be a tale of happily-ever-after, but you get the feeling that the animated crowd will be baying for the demise of further animals the following day.
Of course, kids won’t be worried about what happens after the end credits roll, just the fate of their horned protagonist, and this is largely down to John Cena’s earnest and likeable performance, transferring his all-American good-guy wrestler into the titular no-bull Bull.
The fact Ferdinand is quite a bland creation allows for some madcap peripheral characters to steal the show. Kate McKinnon gets most of the laughs as a goofy goat, who takes it upon herself to become Ferdinand’s big fight trainer, and feels the perfect animal manifestation of the SNL superstar. David Tennant also provides good value as a shaggy Scottish bull with a fringe issue. There are also a trio of Spanish hedgehogs and a trio of Austrian horses that get their fair share of laughs.
Ferdinand feels closer to that manic Madagascar style of comedy than the subtleties of a Pixar effort; in fact its major stumbling point is that visually it doesn’t feel as though it has its own identity, or anything narratively unique beyond the animal cruelty message. Even the big creatures driving cars finale feels lifted from Finding Nemo, but without the thrills.
It’s not going to have audiences revisiting it like a red rag to a bull, but Ferdinand has enough charm, a decent bull-in-a-china-shop gag, and it’s huge heart in the right place, to be a fun ninety minutes of family entertainment.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★