Just in time for the lunar new year holiday, a new animated version of the loveable, flower-smelling bull has come to our shores. FERDINAND was released in the US in December – opposite STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI, no less – and audience reaction overseas has been politely tepid, though the film has done respectably well at the box office, taking in over US$275 million (off a production budget of US$111 million) worldwide so far.
Based on the children’s book entitled The Story of Ferdinand published in 1936, this new version of FERDINAND builds upon the original bare-bones story by throwing in more than a few new characters and changing the story’s pacifist message to a more contemporary one of being true to yourself. Ferdinand is voiced by John Cena (TRAINWRECK) in a “nudge-nudge-wink-wink” bit of casting that only adults will understand. Kate McKinnon (GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)) plays Lupe, Ferdinand’s crazy-as-a-goat “comfort goat” and mentor. This modern Ferdinand still loves to sit under the cork tree and sniff the flowers but he’s also subject to a fair bit of bullying – pun intended – from some of the other bulls who see their mission in life as making it to the bullring. In this version though, if they don’t get selected for the big fight, they get trucked off to the neighbouring “chop shop”, a 21st century euphemism for “abattoir”. Also in this version, Ferdinand escapes from the farm at a young age and becomes the pet of a little girl whose father just happens to grow flowers for a living but, like in the original story, it’s a bee sting to the behind that puts his future on a different course.
Unlike the other recent animated film of late (COCO), FERDINAND has all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop – pun intended. This is not a Pixar movie with state-of-art-animation and a multi-layered story that has meaning for all ages. FERDINAND is made by BLUE SKY – the same people who brought us the ICE AGE and RIO films, and it is squarely meant for kids, and by “kids” I mean really young kids. Even 8- or 9-year-olds may find this movie dull. The big problem is that in the writers’ (and there were six of them) attempt to create a full-length version of what is essentially a 10-minute story, they went too far by adding in too many characters with subplots that dangle in a vacuum when they’re not needed. Here, Ferdinand frolics around with little Nina and we start to develop a relationship with the character but 20 minutes later he’s gone and that’s the end of Nina’s story. There’s no mention of her trying to find him. The same goes for her English sheepdog, Paco, who is supposed to be Ferdinand’s best friend. He, too, is relegated to the sidelines once Ferdinand leaves. That could have been an interesting plot development where Nina and Paco go off in search of Ferdinand, find him on the bull farm, and help rescue him and the other bulls. But, no, that didn’t happen.
The bull farm, too, has its share of quirky but loveable characters but there are just far too many of them to care about. For some unexplained reason (as if having an English sheepdog in Spain isn’t strange enough), the farm is also home to three über-snobby German show horses who taunt the bulls with their fancy footwork. Granted, some of those scenes are funny but what do they have to do with anything other than to pad the film’s running time and allow for the obligatory song which, by the way, is completely unmemorable? It seems that the writers were just throwing everything into the mix hoping for something tasty to come out. There’s a reason why the saying goes, “Less is more.”
That being said, FERDINAND is not a bad film; it’s just not for adults… unless you’re a 30-year-old, single female who has a collection of Hello Kitty figurines Blue-Tacked across your office cubicle divider. If you are, then this film might appeal to you too.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, February 15th at 8:30 am HK time!
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