Review by C.J. Bunce

A fantastic animated movie is heading to theaters this week that your family is not going to want to miss, and (assuming you’re already planning to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi) if you see only two movies over the holidays you’ll want to make sure this is one of them.  Once referred to as the greatest children’s book since Winnie the Pooh, the 1936 internationally successful The Story of Ferdinand has finally been adapted into a full-length animated film.  It is the real deal–a classic animated movie in the tradition of Pinocchio, Bambi, Snow White, The Jungle Book, Tarzan, and Beauty and the Beast, possibly the best film in decades to merit inclusion among these cinema greats, with a level of animation that may have you thinking of the Aardman stop-action films because of its quality 3D animation.  The 32-page original story written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson has been expanded into a larger story with new characters like many popular children’s books–think Dumbo the Flying Elephant, The Polar Express, and The Night at the Museum–remaining completely loyal to the original story.

Ferdinand tells the story of a rural Spanish bull (voiced by actor/WWE wrestler John Cena) who is not interested in growing up like other bulls to fight a matador in the giant arena in Madrid.  He leaves his farm and is adopted by a man and his daughter, where he spends his days smelling (and caring for) flowers on the hillside.  He eventually grows to be a giant bull, larger than any bull around, and a mishap bee sting lands Ferdinand back at the farm with the bulls he grew up with.  They, too, have grown up: Valiente, a stubborn, angry bull (voiced by Ant-Man’s Bobby Cannavale), a small bull named Bones (voiced by Law and Order’s Anthony Anderson), Guapo, a show-off bull (voiced by NFL football player Peyton Manning), an engineered super bull named Machina, and a Scottish Highlander named Angus (voiced by Doctor Who’s David Tennant).  Law and Order’s Jeremy Sisto provides the voice of Ferdinand’s father and Jerrod Carmichael (Transformer: The Last Knight) is the voice of the dog, Paco.  Soon an ambitious goat (voiced by Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon) befriends Ferdinand as Ferdinand learns what it means to be seen by everyone as a “monstrous” bull again.

Ferdinand has it all, at its core a story about an individual who stays true to himself, beautiful scenery, some fun and familiar voice actors, a complex villain, an outstanding musical score with great songs, and powerful themes.  Brazilian director Carlos Saldanha, who directed the Ice Age films and Rio, demonstrates his mastery of cutting edge animation, with a screenplay that creates several subplots that all get nicely tied up by film’s end.  The soundtrack includes songs from Smash Mouth, Green Day, Shakira, Ed Sheeran, and many more.  Prolific composer John Powell (The Italian Job, Shrek, The Bourne Identity, Paycheck, X-Men: The Last Stand, and next year’s Solo: A Star Wars Story) offers up a musical score that includes all you’d hope for in a Spanish story, incorporating a variety of styles and instrumentation.

All the themes of the film, like dealing with “bull-ies,” seemed to really reach the kids in the advance screening I attended, jokes laugh-out-loud funny by kids and adults alike, plus many heartfelt moments along with rollicking action.  Tangent moments introduced three industrious hedgehogs, Una, Dos, and… Quatro, a recurring tiny rabbit, and from the neighboring farm Hans, Greta, and Klaus, three conceited Lipizzaner horses.  Often this type of additional character would take away from a story, but here their scenes were not only hysterically funny but they moved the plot forward–with even a few dance sequences thrown in.  A scene finding Ferdinand trapped inside a china shop in Madrid couldn’t be better.

The Story of Ferdinand (still in print after 80 years and available here at Amazon) was so popular it outsold Gone With the Wind in that novel’s heyday, becoming the #1 American bestselling book of 1938.

Make sure you see Ferdinand, Blue Sky Studios’ latest and greatest creation, in 3D and standard format, arriving in theaters this Friday, December 15, 2017.

 

 

#filmrev

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