Ferdinand – Review

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Ferdinand is the movie that went where other movies dared not go. It’s the movie that firmly held its ground where other movies fleas. It’s a movie that intentionally did something that every other big movie opening this season avoided. Ferdinand is the movie that opened on the same weekend as the latest Star Wars movie.

Ferdinand was released as an attempt at counter-programming to the mega juggernaut that everyone knew The Last Jedi was going to be. Nobody at the studio had any expectations of Ferdinand coming anywhere close to the box office return that Star Wars was going to bring in on the same weekend, but the strategy was that perhaps families with children too young for the biggest movie of the year might be looking for something, anything else, that would be playing in the theaters. It’s a strategy that worked out surprisingly well for Alvin and the Chipmunks 4 a few years ago when it opened against The Force Awakens, and the hope was that Ferdinand would be able to replicate that strategy.

Ferdinand is the story of a bull who, instead of fighting as all bulls love to do, would prefer to spend his time sitting peacefully in a meadow enjoying the smell of flowers. While we get an extended prologue with a young version of Ferdinand, seeing how he escapes to a farm where he can enjoy his days in the fields, the movie quickly shifts to an adult version of Ferdinand, this one voiced by John Cena. Most of the movie’s humor is derived from the idea of this giant, hulking beast of a thing, time and again finds himself in a situation where he must handle something delicate or fragile. Early on in the movie, Ferdinand finds himself in a situation where he has to get from one end of a store to the other, that is loaded with breakable dishes a literal bull in a china shop. It’s that kind of situation that pops up again and again. Ferdinand is a gentle soul but the world still sees him as a dangerous bull.

As far as mainstream animated movies for kids, you usually have your Walt Disney Animation and Pixar movies at the top of the list, then maybe Dreamworks depending on the IP in question. Blue Sky, who created Ferdinand has never really been seen on the same level as these other major animation studios. To date their biggest franchise has been the long running Ice Age series with only a few other movies to their name. Ferdinand doesn’t do a whole lot to elevate the status of Blue Sky Studios. Like its predecessors, it’s a movie that does a serviceable job of entertaining children for the runtime of the movie. There are a few highlight jokes (most of them coming from John Cena who does a surprisingly good job of getting his charisma to sine through the filter of a giant animated bull) but not enough to really knock it out of the park.

Another metric that people use to grade animated kids movies is how much an adult would enjoy them. Again Disney and Pixar tend to top the pile here, usually due to gorgeous animation and heartfelt stories. Dreamworks tends to try and achieve this by peppering in jokes and references aimed directly at the adults who were dragged along to see the movies. Ferdinand goes this route a few times with jokes that are clearly meant to sail over the heads of the target audience, but then again, this is the kind of movie where the plot stops so that the bulls can have a dance off with a group of high society horses. The grown up gags are there, but it’s not the defining trait of the movie.

Ultimately Ferdinand does what it sets out to do, it provides an alternative for people who can’t see the PG-13 or R rated movies that are in the theater right now. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s perhaps telling that the recommendation for Ferdinand boils down to “It’s the movie to see if you can’t see anything else.”

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