Ferdinand  (2017)    20th Century Fox/Comedy-Adventure    RT: 106 minutes    Rated PG (rude humor, action, some thematic elements)    Director: Carlos Saldanha    Screenplay: Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle and Brad Copeland    Music: John Powell    Cinematography: Renato Falacao    Release date: December 15, 2017 (US)    Cast: John Cena, Kate McKinnon, David Tennant, Bobby Cannavale, Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning, Tim Nordquist, Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, Gabriel Iglesias, Miguel Angel Silvestre, Flula Borg, Boris Kodjoe, Sally Phillips, Jerrod Carmichael, Lily Day, Juanes, Jeremy Sisto, Karla Martinez, Raul Esparza. 



 After a year of mostly lackluster computer-animated family films (e.g. Cars 3, Despicable Me 3, The Star, both LEGO movies), it’s nice to end 2017 on a high note; first with Pixar’s Coco and now Ferdinand, an entertaining adaptation of the classic children’s story about a good-natured bull who would rather smell the flowers than take part in bullfights. This isn’t the first time he’s been brought to the screen; Disney produced an Academy Award-winning short in 1938 that’s still hugely popular in several countries. In Sweden, it airs annually at Christmastime. I remember seeing it before the 1982 rerelease of Disney’s Robin Hood. It was cute. The new Ferdinand expands on the story and unlike other times this has been attempted with short children’s books (e.g. The Cat in the Hat), it works.

 As a calf, Ferdinand is ridiculed by his peers at the bull training farm for his non-confrontational nature. He isn’t interested in fighting; he just wants to smell the flowers. His father is chosen to fight in the bullring and when he doesn’t return, Ferdinand runs away. He winds up at a florist’s farm where he’s taken in by the owner’s young daughter Nina much to the annoyance of the family’s sheepdog Paco (Carmichael, The Carmichael Show).

 Ferdinand-2017Ferdinand (voiced as an adult by wrestler John Cena) grows to be enormous in size but still retains his non-violent ways. Due to his size, the family leaves him behind when they go to town for the annual flower festival. He decides to go away and inadvertently causes complete chaos when a bee stings him in the behind. He captured and taken back to the farm where he grew up. The other bulls- bully Valiente (Cannavale, Blue Jasmine), nervous Guapo (football player Manning) and skinny Bones (Anderson, Black-ish)- still remember him. He finds a friend in Lupe (McKinnon, Rough Night), a calming goat who volunteers to be his training coach despite the fact he doesn’t want to fight.

 A famous matador (Silvestre, Sense8) arrives at the farm looking for a suitable opponent for his final fight before he retires. He ends up choosing Ferdinand who rallies the others in a great escape. The others include a Scottish bull named Angus (Tennant, Doctor Who) who can’t see because his long hair covers his eyes and a trio of mischievous, thieving hedgehogs- Una (Rodriguez, Jane the Virgin), Dos (Diggs, Wonder) and Cuatro (comedian Iglesias). And what about Tres? As Una says, “We do not speak of Tres.”

 For many, the family movie of choice this holiday season will be The Last Jedi. It makes sense, it’s Star Wars. But what about the kiddies too young for the Force in all its PG-13 glory? Ferdinand is a perfect choice for them. Instead of space battles, light saber fights and not-too-subtle references to the Third Reich, this delightful animated movie extols the values of pacifism, non-aggression and non-conformity. Ferdinand asks his father at the beginning if he can be “the champion of not fighting”. He’s told, mostly by mean Valiente that a bull has two choices in life; he can either be a fighter or meat. He and the others (as well as the humans) try to goad him into fighting but he tries to stay true to who he is, a non-violent bovine who loves flowers. The message of non-violence is especially important in a time when the news is filled with stories about mass shootings, terrorist attacks, bombings and peaceful protests becoming violent. We don’t realize it but little kids understand more than we think they do. A movie like Ferdinand reassures them that it’s okay not to fight.

 Now that we’ve got the message portion of Ferdinand out of the way, let’s talk about more fun matters. Specifically, is it funny? The answer is yes. I laughed out loud a few times. The humor ranges from broad slapstick- the china shop sequence harkens back to the days of silent movie comedies- to clever one-liners that only adults will get. I admit to losing it at the end of a dance-off between the bulls and trio of vain, mane-tossing show horses with German accents. When the horses fall to the ground in exhaustion, one of them declares, “I’ve fallen and I can’t giddy-up.” There’s also a great chase sequence with the humans from the bull-training farm pursuing the animal escapees who have commandeered a transport truck.

 As an actor, I usually find Cena rather wooden. Lately, he’s showing a real flair for comedy in movies like Trainwreck, Sisters and Daddy’s Home 2. His voice talents are a fairly big part of why Ferdinand is so good. Not only is the character a direct contrast to his WWE origins, he sounds like he’s having a great time reading his lines. McKinnon (who, as my wife pointed out, sounds a lot like Ellen DeGeneres) is also quite good as the kooky goat. As a Scotsman I’m biased but I really liked Tennant as Angus but I have to ask, what is a Scottish bull doing in Mexico? I also loved the interplay between Ferdinand and Paco whose wagging tail betrays his true feelings of brotherhood towards the bull.

 The animation in Ferdinand is competent. It’s colorful and vibrant without being too flashy. The images never overwhelm the storyline. It moves along at a nice clip. The movie is also touching especially at the end. It’s just a nice movie. The kids should love it. Parents should also find it enjoyable. Be sure to stay for a mid-credits scene (nothing at the end though). No bull, I really liked Ferdinand

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