Review: Ferdinand

Blue Sky return after Ice Age 5 with the big screen adaptation of the popular book The Story of Ferdinand. Some nice animation and a very heart-on-your-sleeve approach serves to deliver a pleasant, if totally forgettable, cinematic confection. 

You’d be forgiven for feeling sequences of Ferdinand have mirrored those from DreamWorks flagship franchise Madagascar as some of the more comedic elements of this yarn are clearly taking cues from it. Blue Sky Animation stable boy Carlos Saldanha, the director behind all the Ice Age and Rio films, helms this talking animal cartoon with the same snappy, exaggerated character features that have populated the other films. It provides Ferdinand with a bright colour palette but, much like his other films, Saldanha still can’t break through the glass ceiling of a truly fully realised cinema experience.

Ferdinand (John Cena), is an enormous bull who, though raised to be a fighter in the bullrings of Madrid, loves flowers and has no interest in fighting. When his father is sent off to face the Matador and doesn’t return, Ferdinand escapes the farm and is taken in by a farmer and his daughter outside of Seville. When a chaotic incidence at a local flower show sees Ferdinand captured and returned to the bull farm, the game is on to stage an escape with his friends, new and old…

The trajectory of Ferdinand is all too familiar but that doesn’t stop it from being distractingly cute in sequences. Though entirely set in Spain, Ferdinand is voiced by American John Cena, his goat sidekick Lupe is Kate McKinnon, Angus is David Tennant sporting a Scottish accent, and three German thoroughbreds Hans, Greta and Klaus speak in thick broken English accents (that particular sequence verges on racist). It’s a jarringly scattershot approach as all the humans sport Spanish accents yet there’s an unnecessary mix of voices in the animals.

There’s a nice subtle commentary on the inane brutality of the Spanish tradition of bull fighting, a thematic point that is ne’er referenced enough in cinema, and it doesn’t shy away from some of the darker subtext that comes with this territory. What lets Ferdinand down is its inability to deliver a stirring emotional pay off. All the elements are there yet there is precious little time spent in cementing a central character relationship before using it as the main point of the finale.

It’s boisterous, bright, colourful, consistently upbeat and full of all the moralistic overtones you expect from a studio family animation. Whilst it has all the pieces it needs to make it something special, Ferdinand hits just shy of the landing its aiming for.