Directed by: Carlos Saldanha | 108 minutes | animation, adventure, comedy, family, fantasy | Dutch voice cast: Rico Verhoeven, Plien van Bennekom, Vlinder Kamerling, Rutger ‘Furtjuh’ Vink, Mike Weerts, Charlie Luske and Johnny Kraaijkamp Jr. | Original voice cast: John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Gina Rodriguez, Bobby Cannavale, David Tennant, Anthony Anderson, Daveed Diggs, Gabriel Iglesias, Flula Borg, Sally Phillips, Boris Kodjoe, Jerrod Carmichael, Raúl Esparza, Karla Martínez, Miguel Ángel Silvestre
The children’s book ‘The Story of Ferdinand’ by the American writer Munro Leaf has been banned in various countries for years. Leaf wrote the story, about a bull who would rather lie in the flowers than fight the matadors in the arena, in 1936 on a whim – with the main aim of giving his good friend Robert Lawson, an aspiring illustrator, a chance to pass on. breaking with the general public. In the US, the books sold like hot cakes in the following years; in the peak year of 1938, more copies of ‘The Story of Ferdinand’ were sold than of ‘Gone with the Wind’! But the world was in the grip of rising fascism and a bull that refuses to fight, which of course smacks of anarchism, pacifism and even communism in the likes of Franco and Adolf Hitler. A children’s book as a source of evil… It says more about the time in which the book was published than about its content. But the political climate of the time meant that Leaf’s youth classic was not released in Spain until 1975 – after Franco’s death. And that while the story is set in Spain and a typical Spanish tradition is central, bullfighting.
As early as 1938, Walt Disney made the short film ‘Ferdinand the Bull’, in a style comparable to the ‘Silly Symphonies’. The film earned him an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. Nearly eighty years later, 20th Century Fox Animation, in collaboration with Blue Sky Studios (which is responsible for the ‘Ice Age’ and ‘Rio’ films, among others), has released a 106-minute animated film that aims to breathe new life into Ferdinand the Bull. . Brazilian Carlos Saldanha, involved in almost every film in the Blue Sky stable, was brought in to direct ‘Ferdinand’ (2017). The voice cast included John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Anthony Andersen, David Tennant, Bobby Cannavale and Gina Rodriguez. In the Dutch version, the Brabant kickboxing champion Rico Verhoeven makes his film debut; he records the voice of Ferdinand. In addition, Plien van Bennekom, Vlinder Kamerling, Rutger ‘Furtjuh’ Vink, Mike Weerts, Charlie Luske and Johnny Kraaijkamp Jr. to hear.
The fate of a bull in Spain is already determined at birth: either you are selected to fight the bullfighters in the Arena, or you end up in the slaughterhouse. You young Ferdinand don’t know all that yet. While the other bulls at the Casa del Toro dream of one day being chosen to fight the great matadors, Ferdinand prefers to smell colorful and fragrant flowers. He doesn’t like fighting at all. One day his father is chosen by a bullfighter. Ferdinand is proud and happy for him, but when his father doesn’t come back, the young bull will be too hot underfoot. Ferdinand escapes and is found by the sweet girl Nina and her father. On a pleasant farm and a yard full of flowers, the little bull grows up into a cow of impressive proportions. Now that he has grown so big, he better not show himself at the annual flower festival, because those who don’t know him won’t immediately see how sweet he is. But Ferdinand is stubborn and goes anyway. With all its consequences…
Ferdinand is captured and brought back to Casa del Toro, where his old friends have come of age and still hope to one day be picked for bullfighting. Ferdinand is introduced to Lupe, a hideous goat who specializes in getting the bulls ready for their “big day.” Ferdinand has now realized that there is no happy outcome for a bull in any case; either they are stabbed to death by the bullfighter in the arena (because of course the bull never wins), or they get a one-way ticket to the slaughterhouse. Now he has to convince the other bulls of that. Because only if they work together do they stand a chance of escaping their fate.
‘Ferdinand’ is a timeless story on a universal theme: be who you want to be, even if it’s not who others expect you to be. Although the source material is now over eighty (!) years old, this theme is still remarkably topical in view of the gender discussion. It’s amazing how Saldanha and his crew have managed to make such an imposing bull so touching and cuddly. A whole procession of secondary figures was created. In addition to the hysterical goat Lupe and the other bulls, we also see three show horses assigned with a German accent and three inventive brightly colored hedgehogs, who play a crucial role in the escape from Casa del Toro. The animations are funny, cheerful and poignant and there are some strong jokes in the film. For example, poor Ferdinand, while fleeing the angry mob, ends up in a china shop run by a grumpy old woman. The dance-off between the bulls and the horses is also hilarious. Perhaps more could have been done with the music, because on the inevitable ‘Macarena’ and the song by Colombian singer Juanes at the end credits, we can’t exactly call the soundtrack culturally responsible.
‘Ferdinand’ is a sympathetic animation film that is pleasant to look at and conveys a warm message. Sensitive children’s souls may find it confronting that the bulls may end up in the slaughterhouse (there is even a scene in the abattoir), but above all impress on your child that everything will be all right – it is a children’s film after all.