Ferdinand (2017) Review

YOU BETTER BULL-IEVE IT!


 

While the powerhouse giants of Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, and Illumination Entertainment jostle with the yearly releases of animated features, Blue Sky Studios is somewhere trailing behind them; caught in their dusty cloud smoke of racing to the “success” finish line. Originally connected to 20th Century Fox as their parent studio (which is probably now owned by Disney since their recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox), Blue Sky Studios, after doing several small projects and TV commercials, released their first animated film Ice Age in 2002. The film itself, which starred the voice talents of Ray Romano, Denis Leary, and John Leguizamo, was generally well-received by the both critics and the general moviegoing public as it somewhat launched the studio into a contender in children’s animation motion pictures. Unfortunately, while trying to build an Ice Age franchise brand, its subsequent sequels (i.e. Ice Age: The Meltdown, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Ice Age: Continental Drift, and Ice Age: Collision Course) were subpar to its original, lacking a wholesome narrative and feeling derivate to other animated film projects out there. Additionally, with the Ice Age franchise failing to be their flagship franchise, Blue Sky Studios did other animated features, including the more successful The Peanuts Movie, Rio (and its mediocre sequel Rio 2), Robots, Horton Hears a Who, and Epic. With the exception of The Peanuts Movie, most of Blue Sky Studios Non-Ice Age films were faced with mixed reviews and received a mediocre return at the box office, placing the animation studio behind the curve against its competition, which were producing either superior cartoon endeavors. Now, after a year of solid animated films (i.e. Cars 3, Despicable Me 3, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, and Coco), Blue Sky Studios (and 20th Century Fox) and director Carlos Saldanha present their newest animated film Ferdinand; based on the beloved children’s book by Munro Leaf. Does Blue Sky Studios make their mark on the 2017 year with their latest animated movie or does it fail to make a lasting impression?

THE STORY


Being born at Casa del Toro and raised into a legacy of bullfighting, Ferdinand (John Cena) merely wants to spend his days smelling flowers, living a peaceful life that’s threatened by bullies such as Valiente (Bobby Cannavale). Unfortunately, tragedy strikes the tender-hearted bull with the loss of his father, who’s killed in the bullfighting ring, finding Ferdinand running away from his home and is found by young Nina (Lily Day) and her family. Growing up strong yet delicate, Ferdinand finds peace with Nina’s family, who raise the bull as a pet, giving him the love he craves. After an incident of rampaging through town, Ferdinand is taking away from Nina and returned to Casa Del Toro, where he comes across childhood bull friends, including Bones (Anthony Anderson) and Guapo (Peyton Manning), some new faces, including Agnus (David Tennant), old enemies (i.e. Valiente), and unusual friendship with the goat Lupe (Kate McKinnon), who shares a desire to train Ferdinand into becoming a fighting bull. However, due to his size and strength, Ferdinand is soon marked as a potential for bullfighting, acquired by El Primero (Miguel Angel Silvestre), an arrogant matador who collects various bulls, hoping to select a prime opponent for his latest bullfighting match. Soon learning of what becomes of the bulls selected by El Primero and the fate of those sent to the nearby slaughterhouse, Ferdinand plans a escape plan, only to find himself soon caught in the crosshairs of helping his friends and showing the world the meaning of “don’t judge a book by its cover”.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


As a fan of animated movies, I’ve seen my fair share of kid’s cartoon films to have a pretty good idea of what’s make them memorable or (at the very least) good in children / family entertainment. Like I said above, the releases under Blue Sky Studios have been mediocre, especially when compared to the other releases made by their animation studio competition. For me, the Ice Age movies have been hit and miss with me, finding the odd number entries to be better than the even ones. Still, while I did find some enjoyment in them (i.e. a few comical parts and the solid voice acting talents behind the various characters), the Ice Age were pretty mediocre, which isn’t a good thing for being the signature franchise brand of Blue Sky Studios. There other non-Ice Age films are just as okay as most are either pretty forgetful (Horton Hears a Who and Robots) or just a knock-off of other past animated films (Epic was vaguely similar to 1992’s Ferngully: The Last Rainforest). That being said, Blue Sky Studios has produced at least two memorable hits, with Rio (not its sequel) and The Peanuts Movie. Thus, there’s still some hope left in this animation studio to create some type of wholesome family cartoon endeavor.

This brings me back around to my review for the movie Ferdinand, Blue Sky Studios’s latest release. Naturally, I remember reading Munro Leaf’s classic children’s book (i.e. The Story of Ferdinand) several times when I was younger. I even remember watching Disney’s 1938 animated short Ferdinand the Bull as it was usually attached to several home releases compilation as well as appearing on TV several times during my youth. Of course, the core message of Ferdinand is a palpable one, one can resonate within everyone, which is why it is still a beloved story to read. Thus, this peaked my interest when I first heard about the movie Ferdinand. To be honest, I really didn’t here much internet buzz about this movie until they (the studio) decided to release the first trailer for the film. Of course, I instantly fell in love with the movie as well as Ed Sheeran’s song “Castle on the Hill”, which played throughout the first trailer as well as the second trailer released. Despite the fact that this movie was being released the same weekend as the much-anticipated film Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I was very curious to see how Ferdinand would ultimately play out. Would it be good? Bad? Or Somewhere between? So, after seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I decided to purchase a ticket to go see this new animated film. However, me actually doing my review for Ferdinand fell through the cracks and a bit delayed, but I’m doing it now (hooray!). What did think of it? Well, I actually liked it. Despite of some small problems here and there, Ferdinand still manages to be a wholesome and entertaining kid’s flick, especially thanks to the voice talents as well as keeping the core heart of the narrative intact. It may not beat out a Pixar latest film Coco, but Ferdinand still has a lot of humor / love to go around.

Ferdinand is directed by Carlos Saldanha, whose previous directorial works include several other Blue Sky Studios films like both Rio and Rio 2 and several of the Ice Age films (Ice Age, The Meltdown, and Dawn of the Dinosaurs). Thus, given that career in working in both animated films as well as Blue Sky Studios, Saldanha is the perfect choice in directing Ferdinand. To be quite honest, his directorial work on this film project is perhaps his best endeavors of all his Blue Sky Studios features, with Ferdinand finding more of a balance with its audience viewers and storytelling, which is pretty straightforward. The film’s screenplay, which was penned by Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle, and Brad Copeland, does provide a lot of kid-friendly entertainment, navigating through its main tale, with plethora of animated side-characters and humorous jokes and gags that did make me laugh (out-loud) several times. While there’s enough distraction and entertainment value, the film’s ending (the last fifteen minutes) is where the movie shines the most and speaks to the heart and within its Leaf’s moral center.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect (and most engaging) of the film is the fundamental value that it presents. Yes, Leaf’s original thematic message is still there, but the movie adds to the message by expanding on certain elements. Naturally, the message of “being yourself” and “never judge a book by its cover” is what I’m talking about, but the movie also talks about the masculinity and society’s (in general) position on it. Yes, other films (both animated and live-action) have touched upon this issue, but it fits great within the context of Ferdinand in both its story and messages. Speaking in general terms, men (males) must fit / act a certain way (don’t show emotion, don’t cry, be manly, etc.) or they are labelled feminism and sometimes branded as “outcasts”. It’s sad, but it’s true and Ferdinand is a great platform to at least bring to light (with kid’s gloves on) and shows how an individual can overcome such adversities and just “be themselves”, which is a universal thematic message to learn.

Also, while the animation isn’t as high quality (more on the below), it is still pleasing to the eye, with plenty of bright and vibrant colors when displayed on screen. Additionally, the film’s score, which was composed by John Powell, is solid, with plenty of musical melodies playing throughout the film that invokes a variety of emotions (i.e. be it comedic sequences and / or dramatic poise). Lastly, the film’s main song, which is titled “Home” by Nick Jonas, is actually pretty good and quite catchy. I’ll even admit that I bought the song (via iTunes) already. Still, I think that Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill” is a better song.

Ferdinand does have some problems that either can’t overcome or falters in its storytelling proceedings. For starters, in comparison to Coco (Pixar’s latest animated endeavor), this film lacks a sharp animated design. As I stated above that the film’s animation is good, but it’s not as expressive and intricately detailed as Coco was. I know Pixar is one of the premiere animation studios out there and I know that everyone animated movie out there can’t be held on the same standards as a Pixar film, but it’s still noticeable of the two different styles in animation quality. Ferdinand’s animation just keeps it with the status quo to the industry standard of cartoon animation (i.e. it doesn’t break any new ground). The other problem I found with the movie was several of added content into the main narrative. While the essential core fundamentals of Leaf’s book are still there, Saldanha (and the story and screenplay writers) add material to the “beef up” the children’s picture book story into a full-length animated film. Of course, this is fairly common when adapting a children’s picture into a film. However, this sort of “new” material added isn’t usually the best. Such is the case in Ferdinand, which involves Ferdinand venturing into a slaughter house to save one of his bull companions, which is kind of “dark” idea to put into a kid’s movie. There’s also a few chase scenes, a break dance competition between the bulls and three obnoxious horses, and three sidekick hedgehogs, and so on and so forth. The ending of the film brings together the heart of the film, but all the added material such seems a bit like “filler” and not quite engaging. Additionally, Ferdinand (as a whole) really doesn’t break any new ground in telling its story. Yes, the tale it tells is universal, but conventional nonetheless and follows a predictable path from start to finish. There are some parts that could’ve gone deeper and more sophisticated, especially during its thematic message of “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but the film never digs deep enough to uncover those moments, retreading its kid-friendly atmosphere of humor and gags (to keep its intended target audience appeased).

In terms of voice acting, Ferdinand does employ a lot recognizable actors and actresses to brings its animated characters to life. Lead the charge of these group (and definitely the highlight of the film) is WWE wrestler / actor John Cena. Known for his film roles like Sisters, The Marine, and 12 Rounds, Cena truly does embody the title character, giving Ferdinand a likeable voice that sounds big and yet gentle, which matches physical appearance of the large, kind-hearted bull wonderfully. Additionally, while Cena may not be the most talented in the thespian arts of theatrics, his delivery and timing of his dialogue is impeccable and certainly does show within his voice work of Ferdinand. Behind Cena, comedian actress Kate McKinnon is the next big highlight of Ferdinand, with her character of Lupe, an old “calming” goat at Casa del Toro who befriends Ferdinand. Known for her roles in SNL, Ghostbusters, and Office Christmas Party, McKinnon has always had a gift at demonstrating comedy gags and does so again in her role of Lupe, a character who has a lot to say and does in a comical fun way. Much like Cena with Ferdinand, it also helps that McKinnon character perfectly matches her voice. In addition, there’s also several bull characters (at Casa del Toro) that are provided by recognizable actors, including actor Anthony Anderson (Transformers and Hustle & Flow) as the scrawny yet fast bull Bones, actor David Tennant (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Doctor Who) as the Scottish highland bull Angus, and actor Bobby Cannavale (HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) as the proud and mean-spirited bull Valiente (Cannavale also provides the voice for Valiente’s father). However, perhaps the most surprising voice talent (in all of Ferdinand) who have to be retired NFL QB Peyton Manning, who provides the voice for the bull Guapo. While he’s really not knowing for acting talents, Manning’s voice work as Guapo is actually pretty good and (to be honest) quite funny. Definitely a surprise.

The rest of voice actors are in more of the supporting roles. This includes, actress Lily Day debuting as the role of Nina (Ferdinand’s human girl owner), actor Juanes (Goal II: Living the Dream and Rosairo Tijeras) as Nina’s father Juan, actor Jerrod Carmichael (Neighbors and Transformers: The Last Knight) as Nina and Juan’s dog Paco, actor Raul Esparza (Law & Order: SVU and Find Me Guilty), Miguel Angel Silvestre (Sense8 and Narcos) as the arrogant / famous bull fighter El Primero, actress Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin and Deepwater Horizon), actor Daveed Diggs (The Get Down and Wonder), and actor Gabriel Iglesias (Magic Mike XXL and The Book of Life) as the three mischievous hedgehogs (Uno, Dos, Cuatro), and actor Flula Borg (Pitch Perfect 2 and Buddymoon), actress Sally Phillips (Bridget Jones’s Baby and Pride and Prejudice, and Zombies), and actor Boris Kodjoe (Surrogates and Resident Evil: Afterlife) as the three Austrian Lipizzan horses at Casa del Toro (Hans, Greta, and Klaus). Despite some of these roles being either small or unimportant to the main narrative, their voice work is (collectively) solid with many bring these characters to life.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Don’t judge a “bull” by its cover” is an appropriate tagline for the giant, yet kind-hearted bull who doesn’t want to fight in the animated movie Ferdinand. Director Carlos Saldanha newest film brings to life the Leaf’s classic (and beloved) children’s book to life and offering an animated tale that’s colorful as it is meaningful. While the animation design isn’t quite as high quality as some recent cartoon features as well as its added “filler” material isn’t as engaging as it could’ve been, the movie ultimately succeeds thanks to its solid voice acting (especially Cena and McKinnon), comedic jokes / gags, an entertaining story, and thematic message of “being yourself”. Personally, I liked this movie. Of course, it can’t beat out Disney and / or Pixar’s latest endeavors, but its still a good wholesome family film that its more of its intended mark than misses it. Thus, my recommendation for Ferdinand would have to be “recommended” as if offers a lot of fun and morality to not just kids but to adults as well. In the end, Ferdinand may not be the best animated film out there, but its surely will strike a cord with many and is definitely one of Blue Sky Studios better quality films made in recent years. You better bull-ieve it!

3.9 Out of 5 (Recommended)

 

Released On: December 15th, 2017
Reviewed On: February 13th, 2017

Ferdinand  is 108 minutes long and is rated PG for rude humor, action, and some thematic elements

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