A young bull named Ferdinand (John Cena) lives in Casa del Toro, where he and other bulls are being raised for the bullfighting ring. Ferdinand, however, is gentle and kind with a love of flowers and no desire to fight. One day, he escapes from the Casa and ends up at a farm where he meets a girl called Nina (Lily Day). The two become best friends and over the years, Ferdinand grows into a great animal whose large size does not reflect the sensitive soul inside. One day, following a calamitous visit to the local town, he is taken away from Nina and brought back to the Casa of his childhood.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Disney has set the bar high for animated features. Ferdinand was recently nominated for the Best Animated Picture Golden Globe and it really doesn’t stand a chance,* but this is largely because there are some things that Disney just does better than other studios. These include the quality of its animation and writing, the creativeness of its characters and the warm, gooey feeling the studio’s films leave you with. Ferdinand is lacking in all these areas.
There’s nothing particularly interesting or creative about the concept of a gentle bull and John Cena (unlike he has done with comedic roles in the likes of Daddy’s Home and Trainwreck) doesn’t really bring anything as the voice of the character. Kate McKinnon is a bit of fun as the goat Lupe, but as is the case with Cena, isn’t left with much to do with the script. There are simply too many characters between bulls, horses, a goat, hedgehogs and humans, none of which are particularly well-rounded or interesting, and some of which don’t even make sense (why are the horses German? Why is there a Scottish bull? Why do all the human characters have Spanish accents bar one English policeman?).
Bambi seems to have been a source of inspiration in Ferdinand's love of flowers and resistance to fighting (as well as a certain life-changing event at the start of the film), and the relationship between him and Nina is painted in a heart-touching way. However, the narrative gets messy from the return to Casa del Toro on and as well as this plethora of characters, we have a prison break narrative in the third act as well as an attempt to provide a commentary on the immorality of bullfighting (Ferdinand learns that ‘the bull never wins’, a message he must pass onto his bullfight-eager companions) while portraying a totally sanitised, bloodless version of the real thing for the sake of young viewers. It leaves audience with a sense of discomfort more than outrage or even hope.
Ferdinand will likely come and leave cinemas, leaving no real impression on anyone. It’s fine if you’re totally stuck for something to bring the kiddies too but there are other, better movies out.
*On a side note, it’s great to see Irish animation The Breadwinner nominated as well as the revolutionary Loving Vincent.