Courtesy of Blue Sky Studios

Courtesy of Blue Sky Studios

Ferdinand Is Too Big for Its Bullring

The modern take on the classic children’s story fails when stretched to feature length.

If you did not love Ferdinand the bull when you were young, it can only be because you didn’t encounter the classic children’s story. Because it is impossible to dislike Ferdinand.

Ferdinand’s story is an uncomplicated one. He’s just a bull who would rather sniff flowers than fight in a bullring—a subject perfect for the bestselling book and the Disney cartoon based on it (which won the 1938 Oscar for best short animated film).

Now Ferdinand is back in an enjoyable but spotty 106-minute animated film from the studio that made the Ice Age movies. While the pacifist bovine (voiced by John Cena) remains a lovable character, the movie’s running time indicates the difficulty of bringing such a simple story to life: There’s a certain amount of hormone-fed expansion involved in making a feature out of all this.

Ferdinand places our hero on a Spanish ranch where bulls are bred for the ring. “You’re either a fighter or meat,” as one character puts it, and the ranch is in depressing proximity to a slaughterhouse. This existential crisis makes a rather bleak backdrop for a kiddie movie, and it comes as a relief when Ferdinand temporarily escapes the ranch for a farm where animals can just sit around and smell flowers all day. Alas, Ferdinand’s massive size brings him to the attention of a preening matador, and soon he has a date in the bullring. This being a cartoon feature, there are many talking animals, including a goat (SNL star Kate McKinnon) whose job it is to keep the fighting bulls calm (given McKinnon’s manic vocal performance, this particular goat is miscast for that role). We’ve also got other bulls (voices include Anthony Anderson and, for whatever reason, Peyton Manning), some pompous horses, and three hedgehogs. The hedgehogs are part of this movie’s unevenness. Small, cute, and screechy, they play like an afterthought inspired by the Madagascar penguins and the Despicable Me minions. It’s as though somebody realized that the story of Ferdinand has a terrific beginning and end but no actual middle, so something busy and loud was needed.

Director Carlos Saldanha worked on the Ice Age movies and the delightful Rio, all for Blue Sky Studios. He inclines toward flower-sniffing rather than slapstick, which likely puts him at odds with the target audience. When Ferdinand is in stride, it conjures up plenty of charm, such as the sequence where the bulls ride a city bus to the bullring—all that macho business of running through the streets of Pamplona is thoroughly rejected in this movie’s gentler approach. Opens Fri., Dec. 15 at various area theaters. Rated PG.

film@seattleweekly.com

More in Film

The Conquistador Fever Dream of ‘Zama’

The Argentinian film follows a hapless cog of colonialism disorientingly seeking escape.

Joaquin Phoenix in Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here. Photo by Alison Cohen Rosa/Amazon Studios
‘You Were Never Really Here’ and the Unsmooth Criminal

Joaquin Phoenix captivates as a disheveled hitman in Lynne Ramsay’s hypnotic thriller.

James McAvoy and Alicia Vikander deal with a long-distance romance 
in Submergence. Courtesy Samuel Goldwyn Films
That Underwater Feeling

Wim Wenders fails to return to form in the distant drama ‘Submergence.’

Edie Falco delivers an award-worthy performance in Outside In.
Photo by Nathan M. Miller
Second Chances in Snohomish

Edie Falco commands the screen in Lynn Shelton’s ‘Outside In.’

Players engage in battle in the OASIS, the virtual-reality universe of ‘Ready Player One.’ Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
Fully Nerding Out

Steven Spielberg’s ‘Ready Player One’ delivers an occasionally thrilling VR pop culture overload.

Old Dog, Same Tricks

Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs shows why his style is suited for animation, even if still overbearing.

Nick Robinson stars in Love, Simon. 
Photo by Ben Rothstein/Twentieth Century Fox
Simon, Are You Queer?

‘Love, Simon’ plays off ’90s tropes for its simple—but groundbreaking—gay high school story.

Photo by Nicola Dove/IFC Films
The Scathing Commie-dy of ‘The Death of Stalin’

Armando Iannucci’s latest film provides razor sharp pseudo-historical satire.

Stanley Tucci and Addison Timlin get too close in Submission. Courtesy Great Point Media/Paladin
Unlearned Lessons

While Stanley Tucci shines, ‘Submission’ feels uncomfortably pre-#MeToo.

Cillian Murphy joins <em>The Party</em>. Courtesy of Roadside Attractions
Don’t Want ‘The Party’ to End

Wickedly witty characters drive Sally Potter’s latest film.

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
The Trans-cendent ‘A Fantastic Woman’

The brilliant Chilean Oscar nominee actually lets a strong trans person play a lead trans role.

Courtesy Allied Integrated Marketing
Fallen Star

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool fails to capture the magic of actress Gloria Grahame.