First published in 1936, Munro Leaf’s children’s book The Story Of Ferdinand is a simple tale of a bull that prefers sitting in a meadow smelling flowers than fighting in bullfights. Regarded as a pacifist story in the thirties and forties – it was banned in Franco’s Spain and Hitler reportedly had copies of the book burned – it’s an American classic that had previously only been translated onto the screen as a Disney animated short (1938’s Ferdinand The Bull).
Over 80 years since the book was first printed, Ferdinand’s story is now a computer-animated comedy drama directed by Ice Age and Rio’s Carlos Saldanha. His task was a difficult one – turning a very short children’s story into a 107 minute family movie – but this light-hearted, fleshed-out version of Ferdinand retains the original message (‘be true to yourself’) amidst the family friendly jokes and hi-jinks.
Young Ferdinand (Cena) is the son of a fighting bull, but he doesn’t want to fight, he wants to appreciate the flowers around him and be peaceful instead. His dream seems to have come true when he’s adopted by a farmer and his daughter, but one disastrous day in the local village leads to Ferdinand being taken away to a ranch where he will either be sent to fight a matador or condemned to the slaughterhouse.
To expand the story, we get to see Ferdinand’s idyllic life on the farm – and a superb scene in the village where he is literally the bull in the china shop – and the less rosy one at the bull ranch. It’s there that he meets a host of characters added for comic relief, including a trio of hedgehogs (one of which is blue, as a nod to that most famous spiny mammal, Sonic), three arrogant ponies and Lupe (McKinnon), a ‘calming’ goat who is anything but calm and becomes something of a comedy sidekick to our adorable lead. There are also Ferdinand’s fellow bulls – among them Angus (Tennant), and bully Valiente (Cannavale).
While the story is slightly predictable – and an escape scene at the abbatoir may remind older viewers of Chicken Run – there are some funny and sweet moments , plus terrific vocal performances, all played against a luscious Spanish backdrop (like the original book, the idyliic village is based on the southern town of Ronda).
Throughout, there is the important message for kids that you should be who you are, not who others want you to be. And at the centre of it all is the sweet Ferdinand, a hero with a big heart who is sure to capture yours.
An early scene has Ferdinand being bullied by another bull which may upset very young viewers.
There is a scene in which a bull runs through a town and destroys things accidentally but it is not frightening.
There are some scenes of mild threat for Ferdinand, but nothing that should scare children over the age of six.
Ferdinand’s father goes off to fight a matador and never returns. Older children will realise he has been killed in the bullfight but it is never specifically stated, and is not shown.
Bulls who are not successful fighters are taken away in a van that has an image of different cuts of meat on the back door. Older viewers will realise this means they are being taken away to be killed for food, but very young viewers may not realise this.
There is a scene in the abbatoir but no deaths are shown.
There is a bullfight in Madrid but it is not too scary.
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