I think that the best way, as an adult, to tackle a viewing of Ferdinand is to imagine you’re watching a comedy Bourne film, particularly when it comes to the chase sequences. Otherwise, you’ll wallow in the realisation that this doesn’t measure up to the quality of a Pixar or Disney animation, and is nowhere near as appealing as the original Ice Age.
The first part of the film deals with the origin story: a bull calf (voiced initially by Colin H Murphy, who later hands over to John Cena) with a traumatic upbringing who rebels against the system and escapes when his father doesn’t return victorious from the bullfighting arena in the lorry the young bulls grow up calling the ‘winner’s truck’.
“You can hurt me if you want, but leave the flower alone.”
Along the way he meets a little girl Nina (Lily Day), who so nearly becomes his sidekick before being cruelly replaced by a streetwise goat called Lupe (Kate McKinnon). The little calf grows up, realises that he is more at home in a meadow full of his favourite flowers, becomes confident in his otherness, eschewing violence and simple stereotyping.
On the farm, Valiente (Bobby Cannavale) is a bully, like his father. Bones (Anthony Anderson) is labelled as an underdeveloped “weirdo”. Guapo (Peyton Manning) is nervous and provides the sustained and wretched throwing up jokes.
Ferdinand’s 107 minute journey loops him back round to familiar places, building up momentum, and allowing some of the characters to shake off their wicked ways.
The animation is good and never distracting, and the gentle acoustic guitar-heavy soundtrack is a particular joy to listen to. The beginning of the film is surprisingly morose as Ferdinand’s insecurity is explored and many of the jokes in the script fall flat until the arrival of the comedy hedgehogs.
The bull in a china shop scene is brilliant for its sense of reserve, and the chase sequences with trains and traffic are the points at which the film really comes alive (leading me into my Bourne fantasy).
“You’re either a fighter or you’re meat.”
Set in Spain, it’s a while before you hear any foreign accents, never mind Spanish ones. But over time you’ll hear the German dancing ponies who separate the bulls from the meat factory that conveniently sits a few fields away. “I’m a bull not a doctor” knowingly shouts Angus, the long-fringed bull voiced by David Tennant who gets some of the best lines of the film.
Being an animated kids film doesn’t forgive the many plot holes. The need to escape through the house (a fun albeit prematurely curtailed sequence) is later contradicted by the possibility of galloping through over the fields to the strangely unpopulated slaughterhouse.
“I can’t wait to show you to the rest of the guys! They’re gonna fertilize the yard.”
That’s not a quote I wanted to reuse on the way out of the screening. The young children at the preview seemed to enjoy Ferdinand. This bigger child found it somewhere between Moo and Meh.
Ferdinand is good for children and harmless for adults. It’s a satisfactory animation that suffers from a poor script, and by next Christmas will be gracing supermarket DVD shelves and appear in a less than prime time slot in the festive Radio Times.
In Movie House Cinemas and elsewhere from Friday 15 December.