It has been widely noted that 2017 was not bursting with unforgettable animated features. Subsequent viewings of Coco continue to affirm it is really great, though not in Pixar’s top five; when The Boss Baby vies for best animated feature, the pickings must be slim. Ferdinand, based on the classic children’s book written by Munro Leaf (and illustrated by Robert Lawson), is the right source material from which to craft an animated gem, and the result is exactly what one would expect from the director of Ice Age and Rio, Carlos Saldanha.
Ferdinand is pleasant and will make children laugh while leaving adults underwhelmed but not unamused. In Leaf’s story, Ferdinand is a bull who would rather smell flowers than fight. His overt pacifism in the ring leads to his being left happily alone in his flower-filled fields. Leaf wrote that story in 1936. Making it into an animated feature in 2017 means casting likable professional wrestler John Cena to voice Ferdinand, who still loves flowers, but now he loves flowers to the tunes of Nick Jonas while trying to save some other bulls—voiced by Anthony Anderson, Bobby Cannavale, David Tennant and Peyton Manning (?!)—from the slaughterhouse, here called the Chop House. At least Ferdinand’s mentor is a crazy, Kate McKinnon goat.
Naturally, comic relief exists in the dueling trios of animals, dancing hedgehogs and prancing Lipizzans. None of this has anything to do with Leaf’s innocent tale, but is practically required for a modern animated feature. The story of Ferdinand remains sweet, but the movie is far from timeless.
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