The new computer-animated movie “Ferdinand” from director Carlos Saldanha is a modern re-telling of the classic children’s tale “The Story of Ferdinand.” It tells the story of a pacifist bull who would rather smell the flowers than fight in a bullfighting ring. Parents and grandparents will love this film, and young kids will giggle and laugh along with the bull Ferdinand. This new film “Ferdinand” is an adorable family film for so many reasons.
One big reason why the film is so adorable is because it touches on important themes that have been taught to us ever since we were small children. In an interview before the release of the film, director Carlos Saldanha talked about his motivations for making this film. He said that he wanted to contribute his own vision of this classic tale, with a focus on a theme from the book that was near and dear to his heart: “If you are at home with who you are, you find peace.”
In the film, of course, the centrality of this theme primarily concerns the giant bull Ferdinand. This character is so huge and physically intimidating that people naturally assume he must be fearsome – but he’s hardly that. In fact, as parents and grandparents will remember from the 1936 story by Munro Leaf, Ferdinand was really a pacifist. He had no inclination to fight, and couldn’t figure out why everyone wanted him to compete in the bullring. So a lot of the film is about Ferdinand becoming comfortable with who he is – and not who people want him to be.
Moreover, as we see humorously in the movie, Ferdinand is actually somewhat clumsy and goofy – which is why kids are going to love this character. In the trailers that have been released ahead of the December 15 big screen debut, we see Ferdinand falling all over himself clumsily when trying to escape from his captors. And we see this mighty, massive bull taking orders from a trio of very confident hedgehogs (Una, Dos, Cuatro). And the car escape scenes are just classic, with a giant bull wedged into a tiny car. The film is just so adorable.
As the movie progresses, we see Ferdinand becoming more and more comfortable with who he is, and what he has become. And we also know that what he wants more than anything else in the world is to be reunited with his family. That’s an eternal theme that the whole family can enjoy.
It’s easy to dismiss “Ferdinand” as just a children’s movie. After all, it is based on a classic children’s tale. But the film is filled with enough humor and slapstick comedy to make it fun for the whole family. Plus, check out all the great actors and actresses who have voices in this film: John Cena (as Ferdinand the bull), Kate McKinnon (as Lupe, an old goat), Gina Rodriguez (as Una the hedgehog), Daveed Diggs (as Dos), and Gabriel Iglesias (as Cuatro). If you enjoy Kate McKinnon’s brand of comedy on “SNL” each Saturday night, you’ll laugh along with her character. And there’s also a great dance scene featuring the three hedgehogs as they try to create a diversion for Ferdinand.
Young kids might not realize it, but “Ferdinand” is a movie about pacifist resistance to war and non-violence. The book came out in 1936, right around the time of the Spanish Civil War, and at the time, came under a lot of controversy. General Franco of Spain, for example, condemned the book as “pacifist propaganda.” To which author Munro Leaf answered, “Propaganda for laughter only.”
But you can take the idea of fighting in the bullring to be a metaphor for something much greater – fighting in a war. The bull Ferdinand, then, represents Spain, and the “story of Ferdinand” is really a hidden message for the people of Spain at the time. Ferdinand is proof that you can be strong and brave, and still not have to fight.
Of course, you don’t have to know this fascinating back story of the book in order to have fun at the movie cinema. But, later, when your kids are asking you about the movie, and what scenes you enjoyed most, you can start to talk about the symbolism behind each character, and what types of emotions and values they stand for.
According to the official blurb for the movie, “Ferdinand” is all about “not judging a bull by its cover.” That makes for a very compelling reason to see this movie with the whole family, in order to talk about not judging others and not relying on stereotypes to define others.
In this case, everyone assumes that the huge bull Ferdinand must be a real fighter full of ferociousness. But Ferdinand is actually very gentle, and hardly the image of “a bull in a china shop” (although there is one humorous scene where Ferdinand must navigate an over-stuffed china shop).
Saldanha has already delivered two beloved animated classics – “Rio” and “Ice Age” – and it looks like he’s now back with another great animated film that the whole family can enjoy. He seems to have found the perfect formula for success – a somewhat exotic setting (here, the action takes place in Spain), a host of adorable animal characters, a judicious mix of slapstick humor (like a bull sliding around out of control), and several enduring themes that are suitable for the whole family.
This winter holiday season, there may be plenty of ways to enjoy the companionship of family, but none of them will be more enjoyable than spending time at the cinema with “Ferdinand” – it’s an adorable family film about a giant and gentle bull that has been beloved by generations for nearly 80 years. If you’re looking for a perfect family movie to take the kids to, this is it.