Opening 14 Dec 2017
Writing credits: Ron Burch, David Kidd, Don Rhymer, Robert L. Baird, Tom Federle
Principal actors: Kate McKinnon, David Tennant, Bobby Cannavale, John Cena, Gina Rodriguez
The original Ferdinand book, written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson, came out in 1936. Now we have a 90-minute animation of the same title, if not the exact same story. Here, Ferdinand is a young bull living on a ranch in Spain where bulls are raised and trained for bull fights. Unlike his deceased father, who is remembered as one of the most powerful fighters of all times, Ferdinand is bullied as a weakling by his classmates. He escapes this hostile environment to settle happily with a farmer, his daughter Elvira, and their dog Paco on their flower farm. He grows into a powerful, but still tranquil, adult and, by a collection of unfortunate circumstances, is returned to the ranch of his origin. The manager of the ranch, (who looks very much like the boxer Vitali Klitschko) is proud to have the matador El Primero visit his premises to select a candidate for the much anticipated bull fight in Madrid. At the same time Elvira and her father are searching for Ferdinand.
This animated film is full of snappy commentary, often using the word “butt” which might be inevitable considering the magnificence of adult bulls. However, only four points from the original story, as well as the title Ferdinand, appear in the film: Ferdinand likes to smell the flowers, he sits on a bumble bee; he appears in a bull fight; it takes place in Spain. Otherwise, the film shoots off into a whole new direction. For example there are many other animals such as an extremely talkative goat named Lupe and hedgehogs named Uno, Dos, and Quatro (don’t ask what happened to Tres). There is also a small rabbit, as well as horses. There is much spitefulness among the other bulls with such names as Valiente and Quapo. They preen with their fighting skills in order to impress El Primero. Ferdinand’s peaceful character still makes him an outsider. One scene is literally a bull in a china shop. Perhaps the greatest benefit of this filmed version is that it might point a new generation to the marvelous book that is still in existence after more than 80 years. (My book is from 1944). Those familiar with the original will find it difficult to accept this story, although the animation is excellent. Perhaps we can look forward to another film by Carlos Saldanha and his team, that doesn’t have to compete with an original that is already perfect in every way. (Becky Tan)