After a few months of more serious movie-going fare, I thought it would be enjoyable to try something on a more lighthearted note. To add to the fun, I brought along my five-year old son and one of his friends for their candid reviews to add to my perspective on the new movie about Ferdinand the bull.
This animated offering is inspired by the 1936 children’s classic (and possible political statement) by Munro Leaf. The plot was simple enough and stayed mostly true to the source material. Ferdinand the bull isn’t like the others of his kind. He doesn’t want to be a fighter and doesn’t aspire to face off against the famous matadors who seek fame and fortune through battle. Instead, despite being one of the largest and strongest bulls, he wants to laugh and play and love, and always take time to stop and smell the flowers. The challenge (and the plot) comes when everyone around him assumes he is like other bulls who are aggressive, angry fighters, so they try and push him to conform.
After his father doesn’t return victorious from a match with destiny, Ferdinand escapes from the bull farm and spends his formative years prancing in the flower-filled countryside with a young family. The trouble starts when Ferdinand sneaks into town to see his family at the flower festival, even though he was told he was too big and would scare others. A bee sting kickstarts a whole chain reaction of events, ultimately landing Ferdinand back at the bull farm where he was raised and back in competition for status against his old playmates, a rag-tag assortment of other bulls.
Enter a hodgepodge of humorous companions including a trio of hedgehogs, a “calming” goat who doesn’t quite make the grade, and dancing horses with German (or maybe Austrian) accents and things get a bit more interesting.
While Ferdinand is physically the toughest, he refuses to use his strength for anything other than good. His mental toughness, persistence and commitment to his fellow bulls is admirable, especially when everyone else around him is either challenging him to be what they expect or actively working against him.
There were a couple of bright spots in the film including a very literal gag involving Ferdinand the bull and a china store (à la “bull in a china shop”), a dance-off between the rival neighbor horses and a joke when the horses fall along the lines of “I’ve fallen and I can’t giddyup” that got all the parents laughing.
However, I was quite disappointed with the pace of the first two thirds of the movie. I think it’s safe to say that I wasn’t the only one who was a bit nonplussed as the kids were antsy, the dad in the row behind me was snoring, and the mom in the row ahead was compulsively checking her instagram account.
Additionally, there were undertones of some pretty dark themes for a kids’ movie. The bulls reminded Ferdinand regularly that he could fight or be meat, and Ferdinand made the grim discovery that bulls never come out as champions once they enter the ring. There was also a very unsettling “rescue” scene that reminded me of the chase scene with the bedroom doors at the climax of Monsters Inc… except with meat hooks, saws and grinders instead of cheerfully colored wooden doors. Luckily, the darkness of the abattoir wasn’t taken literally by my five-year old companions – though they did note that the part with the “sharp pokey metal bits” was indeed the scariest part of the movie.
When asked what they thought the message of the movie was, my co-reviewers summed it up quite well: “Don’t fight.” In addition to that message, I’ll add that I also appreciated the lengths that Ferdinand went to in order to stay true to his moral compass. The entire movie was filled with feel-good messages about being yourself, and that is definitely a plot point I can get behind.
Amy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother and is passionate about helping others and writing.