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Blue Sky Animation is the home of the truly mediocre in modern animation. The house that the awful Ice Age movies built is back again and apparently attempting to hide their latest bit of sub-par animation by opening Ferdinand opposite Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Smart move, Blue Sky. Burying Ferdinand is definitely the right call. No, the movie isn’t terrible, it’s just mediocre. And in a world where Pixar still rules, it’s not a bad idea to drop your more modestly ambitious products where few audiences will see it.
Ferdinand tells the story of a young bull, voiced by WWE legend John Cena. Young Ferdinand has decided at a very early age that he wants nothing to do with being a bullfighter. Ferdinand, you see, dear reader, loves flowers. That’s all the explanation you are going to get about young Ferdinand’s nature: he loves flowers. When his father, voiced by Jeremy Sisto, doesn’t return to the stable after facing down a matador, Ferdinand decides his best bet in making a run for it.
Through luck and guile, Ferdinand manages to get aboard a train and winds up outside of town and on the farm of a local gardener known for his fantastic flowers. Ferdinand is adopted and loved by Nina (Lily Day) and grows up with her until he becomes a 2,000 pound behemoth. No longer able to hide, Ferdinand gets himself captured when he can’t resist attending the local flower festival and ends up back on his old farm where he is now the biggest bull in the yard, and the one that the new matador has his eye on.
The animation in Ferdinand is good. It’s not Pixar good, but it’s good. The characters have a rubbery exterior that thankfully doesn’t press into the uncanny valley, but it’s also not particularly pretty, either. It’s just OK. The best animation is likely the three hedgehogs, voiced by Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs and Gabriel Iglesias. The spiky hedgehogs are beautifully rendered, but they’re also underwritten and rarely ever funny, which is surprising given the talented voices behind them.
Much of Ferdinand is bereft of laughs. The filmmakers seem intent on going for aw's over guffaws, with the cute factor seeming to be way more important than either laughs or story. Speaking of the story, there really isn’t much of a story. Ferdinand begins the movie as a good-hearted nice guy, learns no lesson, teaches a few other bulls a lesson about compassion, but overall, he goes through very little and doesn’t have a lesson of his own to learn.
There isn’t much of a conflict. One might assume that a cartoon centered around a good-hearted bull might have the nerve to say that bullfighting is cruel and wrong, but no, the makers of Ferdinand are so gutless in their market-savvy greed that they have no intention of offending any culture that still values the tradition of bullfighting. Wouldn’t want to offend lovers of bullfighting and not get their dollars at the international box office, even as the movie is about the cruel fate Ferdinand and his friends are desperate to avoid.
The actual bullfighting climax is a complete cop-out. Not to go too far into spoiler territory, but there really isn’t a villain in Ferdinand. There is the threat of a meatpacking plant that’s in spitting distance of the bull farm but that’s just a threatening looking building, no characters and the threat of going there is quite hollow. The matador would seem like a natural villain, but his fate is the most gutless thing about an already cowardly movie.
Gutless, unfunny, with mediocre animation and story ambition, Ferdinand may not be a terrible movie, but is far from a good movie.