Greg Eichelberger reviews 'Ferdinand'

Greg Eichelberger
Staff Writer

Despite being a halfway decent animated feature production from 20th Century Fox with a sweet, family-friendly message, "Ferdinand" nevertheless has the misfortune of being released almost immediately after another Mexican-themed cartoon, the vastly superior and the Pixar/Disney-produced "Coco."
The hierarchy here being Pixar/Disney first; Dreamworks second; and other studios far behind.
Based on the best-known work by American author Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson, the children's book tells the story of a bull who would rather smell flowers than take part in bullfights. He sits in the middle of the bullring failing to take heed of any of the provocations of the matador and others to fight.
In this version, directed by Carlos Saldanha ("Ice Age: Collision Course") young Ferdinand (voice of Colin H.Murphy), living at the Casa del Toro where champion fighting bulls are bred and raised, does not enjoy butting heads with other young bulls, either, preferring instead to lie under a tree smelling the flowers. His father (voice of Jeremy Sisto, "The Long Road Home" miniseries) doesn't agree with his little calf's philosophy, but tells him to do what he feels is right.
Meanwhile, his dad is chosen to face the matador, El Primero (voice of Miguel Angel Silvestre, "Narcos" TV series) and doesn't return, of course, since the term "bullfighting" hardly includes any fair competition and the bull ALWAYS loses.
Hurt and angry, the young animal runs away, making a daring escape on a freight train and finding refuge on a peaceful farm run by akin farmer (voice of Raul Esparza, "Custody"), along with his daughter, Nina (Julia Saldanha, the director's daughter — that's all you really need to know, friends).
Now grown into an amazingly large bull (although he seems not to notice, still sleeping in Nina's bed and acting as though he can still run around like a tiny calf), voiced by former WWF wrestler and actor John Cena, "Trainwreck"), he also has a stubborn streak. This gets him in real trouble when he insists on following the family to a flower show in town. Stung by a bee, her goes on a rampage, destroys the town, gets captured and sent back to Casa del Toros.
On his second stay there, Ferdinand meets his old friends. Well, certainly NOT friends, since all they did was mock and make fun of him, one of which, Valiente (Bobby Cannavale, "Jumanji: Welcome To the Jungle"), cannot stand the pacifist beast. He does befriend Lupe (Kate McKinnon, "Ghostbusters," "Saturday Night Live," seemingly finally coming off of her depression and breakdown due to Hillary Clinton's electoral loss just as she had perfected an impersonation of her), a bull trainer who tries to prepare the massive, but gentle animal for the ring.
Well, needless to say, a few complications take place and several of the bulls find themselves in serious danger — not of the matador, but of being sold to the adjacent meat market.
The message that it's not the bull in the fight, but the fight in the bull is commendable, although it gets muddled here as the themes bounce around giving the entire film an often jerky and poorly-paced experience. Sure, many of the animal-centric chargers are cute, such as Paco the Dog (voice of Jerrod Carmichael, "The Disaster Artist") and Lupe as McKinnon has some of the best lines in the picture. Cena is good as the lead character and even former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning does a decent take as the constantly-nauseated Guapo.
A little more focus, however, would have done this movie wonders and made it an enjoyable one to watch over again. As it is, it's just a fair work and pales next to the heart, emotion and craftsmanship of "Coco" and other films from that particular studio.
Grade: C+