Ferdinand (John Cena) is a pacifistic bull who meets with childhood ridicule from his peers who aspire to be tough fighting bulls. After running away, he finds a new life with Nina (Lily Day), a young girl who adopts and cares for him, allowing him to grow into an absolutely huge, adult prize-bull. A series of inevitable mishaps later and he’s carted back to his childhood ranch by the authorities where he is forced to train to fight, whilst trying to find a way back to Nina.
The film is the latest offering from Blue Sky Studios, a company probably best known for producing the Ice Age movies. Most notably, it scooped a nomination for Best Animated Picture at the most recent Oscars, though there’s a definite argument that, in the year where fellow nominees included The Boss Baby, perhaps the film was somewhat running unopposed.
Ferdinand is glossy and accomplished in that way where you can tell that they spent $111 million making it, but it’s lacking in real artistry behind its technical accomplishments. The animation and character designs are, at best, functional, whilst the cast is made up of predominantly quite bland vocal talent. Best known for giving performances inside a wrestling ring, John Cena is a surprisingly competent actor, but as the voice of Ferdinand he might as well be anyone. The vast majority of the cast sound as though they’re trying far too hard to sell fairly uninspired material. Even the particularly strong members of the cast are wasted as David Tennant inexplicably dons a not-particularly-great cartoony voice whilst Kate McKinnon spends the film awkwardly emulating Ellen DeGeneres as Dory. The end results are annoying more often than not.
Initially, Ferdinand feels very kiddy, like a film designed with no aspirations beyond being a straight-to DVD effort a parent might put on to buy themselves 108 minutes of peace from their three-year-old. As the plot develops, however, things get more interesting. There are some flashes of darkness that are surprising given how toothless most of the film is, and once the plot actually gets going the characters do begin to earn your emotional investment. It’s hard not to eventually warm to a huge, cuddly man-cow, and the stakes ramp up towards the end which makes for some very welcome, fun action sequences.
The Blu-ray contains a huge number of special features. The vast majority of them are what might as well be PowerPoint presentations with one of the film’s cast members talking over the top, in-character, but there’s also the more conventional making-of documentaries, a music video, concept art, a trailer and a strange Blue Peter-esque activity video for children.
As a film, Ferdinand doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but, like its titular character, it may be simplistic but it’s also solid and very sweet.
FERDINAND / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: CARLOS SALDANHA / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: JOHN CENA, LILY DAY, KATE MCKINNON, DAVID TENNANT, GINA RODRIGUEZ, DAVEED DIGGS, BOBBY CANNEVALE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW