Adapting a short story is more fit for a short film. This was what Disney did in 1938 with the story of “The Story of Ferdinand” into the Oscar winning short Ferdinand the Bull. It’s taken nearly 80 years until 21st Century Fox decided to make a long-form animated film about the flower-loving Spanish bull.
Ferdinand tells the story from a young age of Ferdinand (John Cena) a bull that is a lover of flowers, but is being bred to fight in the ring. One day he escapes and he falls into the care of a girl named Nina (Lily Day) whose father is a florist. He grows up with this family, and eventually reaches a monstrous size. As fate would have it, Ferdinand is soon pulled back to train to fight in the ring; will he be able to remain a pacifist in such a violent climate?
I was a big fan of the short film when I was young, and I was very happy with the way that it was adapted into the long-form. The main character’s essence of a gentle giant is certainly kept intact with the great casting of John Cena to voice him. The antagonism with the matador is also adapted and expanded upon satisfactorily for fans. Being knowledgeable about Spanish culture, I was also very pleased to see the amount of research that went into creating Ferdinand’s story in contemporary Spain. There are certain details that are priceless, such as the setting in the unnamed town, which can be recognized as the real town of Ronda where the oldest bullring in the world resides (finished in 1785), or small details like the train-stops in a ‘departures’ board in the famous train station of Atocha in Madrid. This acute attention paid by the filmmakers brings a certain appreciation and respect to their craft.
However, if we are to analyze the film from a storyline’s perspective, we begin to see some shortfalls. There were many new characters added, and while some worked well, others fell into classic children’s film tropes; specifically a goat voiced by Kate McKinnon, which ended up being more obnoxious than a comic relief. Then there’s the actual story, many scenes are not only predictable, but fail to produce much entertainment, such as an overlong dance-off between the bulls and the horses on the other side of the fence. Every time there was a scene that moved the story along, there was another that simply stalled for the sake of making the film a bit longer.
So unfortunately Ferdinand doesn’t rise high enough to shed off it’s “for children” label. But there are enough successes in other aspects for the film that make it a worthwhile and competent viewing.