dir. Carlos Saldanha
reviewed by Dakota Drobnicki
When The Force Awakens came out two years ago, 20th Century Fox dropped Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Road Chip as its only direct competition. It was just as vapid and terrible as the first three, but it made a decent chunk of change from overly protective families and kids that dragged their parents kicking and screaming to it. Earlier that year, Blue Sky Studios had dropped The Peanuts Movie, which showed for the first time since Ice Age that they could make something that wasn’t vapid and dependent on celebrity voice acting.
Now to compete with The Last Jedi, Fox released Blue Sky’s animated opus based on The Story of Ferdinand, originally published in 1936, on the same weekend. (Although now that Disney owns Fox, who knows if that really matters anymore.) The good will Blue Sky earned with The Peanuts Movie kept me from dreading the movie’s impending release, although the trailers didn’t do anything for me. When I’d gone to see The Last Jedi, the theater had previously played this movie in the room I was in, so I got to cringe as I read the soundtrack listing at the end of its credits.
While I wrote my review for The Last Jedi, the TV was on and I caught an ad for this movie that caught me off guard. One of the bits they edited into the ad was a shot of dabbing horses, which is something I didn’t remember from the trailers. When I told this to my friends, a couple of my friends tried to convince me that I was hallucinating or something. Alas, now that I’ve finally seen it, dabbing horses and all, I can conclude that Ferdinand is good entertainment, if a bit unambitious.
In this installment of “This Ain’t Star Wars!”, here we have last week’s sole competition to The Last Jedi for the kids who aren’t quite ready to see a PG-13 movie yet.
Ferdinand is a pacifist bull born into Casa Del Toros in Spain, a farm that raises and grooms bulls to ship them into bullfighting. His father is picked to be the next bull to step up to the ring, and he eagerly awaits his dad’s return. However, when the truck returns, his father is gone and he successfully escapes the confines of Casa Del Toros. He makes it to a florist’s farm and receives love and care from the young girl Nina (Lily Day) and her dad Juan (Juanes). Under their care, he matures into a massive bull now voiced by JOOOOOOHN CENAAAAA! and life is good.
Ferdinand lapses in judgement and goes to a flower festival in town after they’ve told him he’d be too big and would scare people. After accidentally destroying quite a bit of the village, he’s husked away back to Casa Del Toros, where he reunites with the now-matured bulls who bullied him when he was younger. Once he gets there, befriends a calming goat named Lupe (Kate McKinnon) who agrees to become his bullfighting coach. When El Primero (Miguel Ángel Silvestre), Madrid’s #1 bullfighter, comes to pick his next match, Ferdinand tries to escape once again with the whole gang in tow.
Like many animated kids’ movies of late that aren’t from Pixar, this movie has been met with some hyperbolic reception (to say the least) from nerds online, but it doesn’t really deserve any of it. Earlier this year, I plopped myself into a theater seat and cringed all the way through The Emoji Movie and I grew up with tripe like Shark Tale and Hoodwinked, so I know what a terrible animated movie looks like. Honestly, Ferdinand is totally fine. It goes into some dark territory I didn’t expect it to go in, but it never feels cynically thrown together.
The movie’s worst sequence is its dancing contest with the snooty German horses that also live at Casa Del Toros, where they do indeed dab. Sure, it’s cringey and it instantly dates the movie, but in context I didn’t really mind its inclusion. I was more amazed that there’s an escape sequence at a slaughterhouse where Ferdinand and co. frequently escape the impending jaws of death, meaning this movie could’ve turned into Faces of Death at any moment if an executive with a darker imagination stepped into the production.
That being said, name a “hip” kids movie that doesn’t force in a dance scene with modern, instantly dated pop music. You can name at least five kids’ movies off the top of your head with the same general message of “be yourself”; hell, The Emoji Movie tried to pull that one, but failed at it to the point of contradicting its own message at times. One of its main plot beats toward the end, where the bulls steal a truck and cause chaos on the road, is outright stolen from Finding Dory. There is a fun sequence involving Ferdinand in a china shop and the climactic bullfight is engaging, but otherwise it’s just another average kids’ movie.
Let me be real: I love The Pagemaster and We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story with no shame whatsoever. Both of those movies are cheesy, they take sudden turns into dark territory, their animation styles look cheap and dated, and Ferdinand is a way better movie than either of them on a relative technical level, but I prefer them regardless out of twisted nostalgia. I have the same excited feeling when I see merchandise or marketing for The Phantom Menace, even though the movie itself is boring trash— it’s just a deeply ingrained, irrational emotional response, but it is a piece of who I am.
There are kids who will grow up with memories of Ferdinand and likely have the same deeply intertwined emotional connection to it, whether they like it as an adult or not. (For the kids who have that for The Emoji Movie later on in life, I’m sorry.) For them, the lame shot of the horses dabbing will be their generation’s equivalent to the really lame sequence in Shark Tale where talking fish Will Smith breaks out into a rendition of MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This”, complete with a Hammer dance. To them I say: thank your lucky stars you didn’t have to grow up with Shark Tale. Unless you did… I’m sorry if you did.
For people looking for a movie to follow up Star Wars with, this is your second-best option after Jumanji, plus it has the benefit of being more explicitly targeted towards children. There won’t be any scenes of Ferdinand discovering his penis or anything like that, although I could see some especially conservative parents whine about how often “sucks” appears in the dialogue. You’ll probably enjoy it, just don’t expect greatness out of it.
I just wish I was actually able to see Ferdinand after he grew up.