These days, any film that gives the message of shunning violence and being true to one’s beliefs is welcome, and a well-made animation film, like Ferdinand, is a must-watch for children, though it’s not in the league of the recently-released Coco. Munro Leaf’s 1936 children’s book, The Story of Ferdinand, had been turned into an Oscar-winning animated short two years later by Disney, but it has enough warmth and charm to be turned into a full-length feature so many years later, which Carlos Saldanha has done. Interestingly, the book was banned in Spain, Germany and some countries for its supposedly political pacifist propaganda, because the protagonist Ferdinand is a peace-loving bull that prefers to smell flowers than fight in a Spanish bull-fighting ring.
As a calf in a bull training camp, Ferdinand runs away on learning that his father was killed in a Madrid arena. He finds refuge on a farm with Juan (Juanes), and his daughter Nina (Lily Day), who treats him like a pet till he is too big for the house. He (voiced by John Cena) is sweet and caring, more like a pet dog, but for his size and people’s perception of a bull as an aggressive animal. Soon enough, he is captured and taken back to be pitted in the ring against famous matador El Primero (Miguel Angel Silvestre). Ferdinand plans to escape and save other bulls from the arena or the abattoir, with the help of a goat called Lupe (Kate McKinnon), and a trio of hedgehogs Uno, Dos and Cuartro (Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs and Gabriel Iglesias).
The supporting characters are adorable, the bright landscapes pleasing to the eye and the set pieces delightful — just the ‘bull in a china shop’ sequence is worth the price of a ticket.
The film is funny and moving, grown-ups accompanying kids might find some bits too cloying, and its message too Hollywood-ised for easy consumption, but if it gets kids to think and ask questions, it might just serve a purpose, even if that was not the reason behind updating and filming it.