In recent years, animation has taken important steps in equality politics. Disney possesses the ultimate glory in this area, particularly after the success of Zootropolis last year. Now, Blue Sky studios (responsible for the endless stream of Ice Age movies) attempts to contribute with their new film Ferdinand, adapted from the 1936 children’s book by Munro Leaf.
At a young age, Ferdinand the bull (John Cena) escapes a Spanish bull-training camp, preferring flowers to fighting, to be adopted by a loving family. But when he attends the town’s annual Flower Festival, he is captured by trainers and thrown back into the camp. He must, again, find a way to escape.
The film excels in its messages about equality and acceptance, and even challenges the tenants in mainstream masculinity. Ferdinand is constantly mocked for his love of flowers and deep aversion to violence, peculiar in a distinctly “manly” environment where the choice must be between being meat or being a fighter. Ferdinand’s choice to pursue his own interests is a strong and relevant message, particularly since John Cena (a former WWE champion) is cast as the pacific bull – challenging the notion of “masculinity” even more.
However, despite these amiable intentions, the story is rather spare. Ferdinand is as sweet as a flower, but as funny as a dead one. The humour is reserved for the animals around him, and (aside from an extroverted goat and a stable of upper-class German horses) is strangely limited. The jokes are far too easy, as well as apathetic – often relying on a repeated gag, resulting in long periods of spectator silence.
John Powell’s soundtrack is full of pleasant strumming from Spanish guitars, but is intruded upon by the poppy hindrance of Joe Jonas. His songs (specially written for Ferdinand) are tied to the animation’s dance and action sequences, making the scenes more like music videos or even parodies. His involvement feels shoehorned into the movie and appears to be a greedy attempt at publicity, encouraging people to purchase the soundtrack.
Although Ferdinand has nice and relevant morals for our troubled times, the story is not worth the ticket price. The character of Ferdinand doesn’t develop in 90 minutes, being a perfectly incorruptible creature already, and the comedy isn’t enough to sustain the film. Disney still grows better flowers.
Ferdinand is released nationwide on 16th December 2017.
Watch the trailer for Ferdinand here: