After Ice Age franchise and Rio (2011) Blue Sky Studios and 20th Century Fox join us in this Christmas with a newly polished version of the classic story of Ferdinand, the bull with a big heart. The film Ferdinand can be easily underrated considering the adequate animation and the lack of good songs when compared to Pixar studios’ and Disney’s Coco released in November.
But the age old story of the flower smelling bull surely has something big to offer- a message of accepting who you really are- of course with the assistance of a set of new characters like a soothing goat, a little girl, other fighter bulls and finally a matador who is the best in Spain.
When the first half works on the making of Ferdinand as a runaway calf, adopted and living happy, the second part is heart-warming with his struggle to be himself and his love towards fellow beings. The film maker successfully puts the viewers’ empathy with Ferdinand in the scene where he and the matador get ready to face each other in the fighting venue, showing Ferdinand unarmed, innocent, clueless, walking to the ground while the matador determined and his sword ready to plunge into Ferdinand. Will Ferdinand die? If not, how he survives? That is what this film is all about.
The Story of Ferdinand by Leaf and Lawson was published in 1936 as a children’s story which caused much annoyance to propagandists like Hitler for its passivity; and at the same time it was praised by Gandhi and Thomas Mann for advocating peace and non violence. In 1938 Disney made a short film and thereafter Ferdinand was remembered with that typical Disney ‘cute face’ with long lashes. In 2017, directed by Carlos Saldanha, Ferdinand comes back with a brilliant cast. The new trend of wrestler cum actors like Dwayne Johnson dubbing the animation characters is well received as we saw in Disney’s Moana (2016). Similarly, played by John Cena, the WWE fame, the new Ferdinand is not just a huge bull who refuses to fight or disturbingly passive as Leaf or Disney wanted to show. He is an individual who believes that his call in life is different and that is definitely not to fight. His inspires other bulls saying that ‘there are places out there where we don’t get pushed around for being yourself’.
Ferdinand, as in the classic story, is the same flower smelling bull. But if you ‘judge a bull by his cover’, then you are wrong. The new Ferdinand is a more complex character and there is more action and humour. A few changes are noteworthy, like Ferdinand’s father, his rival bull, Neena the little girl and the old lunatic goat named Lupe who contributes much to the liveliness in the second part- and the old mother cow in the 1936 story is nowhere mentioned. Ferdinand chooses to run away from his ranch where ‘love’ and ‘softness’ are mocked as weakness. But when he is brought back, obviously by the sting of the bumble bee and his thereafter ‘performance’, his choices are, according to other fighter bulls, only two- either fight or be meat. Ferdinand realises that in a bull fight the bull never wins. It is always about the matador. In either way the bull is just meat.
The film takes a new take on gender, race and ethnicity; or in a way to put- its LGBT friendly. For example, the dancing horses, the dog who unknowingly wags his tails while he disagrees, the ‘manly’ bull Bones who cries over his friend’s loss but says that he’s got pollen allergy- all seem ‘weird’. As Ferdinand says, the film’s motto is- “Weird is the new normal”. Ferdinand himself seems gender fluid on occasions when he performs CPR to a bunny, waters plants, dances with other animals while constantly refuses to fight saying “I am not a fighting bull”. In fact he’d rather choose death than being someone else.
There is only one villain- the man- and his inhumanness over killing for fun and glory. And this is successfully played by the Spanish matador El Primero. When Ferdinand wins the crowd like Maximus in Gladiator, the film makes its point- no matter where you come from or what you look like, you have every right to be yourself. And, finally, the world is not a rat race.
- By Stenza Augustine