Ferdinand Voices of John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Bobby Cannavale. Directed by Carlos Saldanha. Rated PG. Opens Friday citywide.
The filmmakers at Blue Sky Studios, home of the animated Ice Age and Rio franchises, are experts at creating annoyingly cute animal characters, and they come up with a bunch more for Ferdinand, a loose adaptation of the beloved children’s book The Story of Ferdinand (which was previously made into an Oscar-winning animated short by Disney in 1938). The title character (voiced by John Cena) is a kind-hearted, nature-loving, non-confrontational bull who runs away from the ranch where bulls are raised to fight and ends up the pet of a sweet little girl.
But he can’t escape the reach of the bullfighting establishment, and soon he’s back in captivity and desperate to escape. For a story with such serious, deadly stakes (the bulls either end up gored by matadors in the ring or sold off to a slaughterhouse), Ferdinand is incongruously breezy, making time for an irritating dance-off with some German-accented horses and plenty of goofy banter with a trio of scrappy hedgehogs. The jokes are mostly painful (at one point Ferdinand literally wanders through a china shop), the voice work is perfunctory and the story’s themes are muddled, especially when the filmmakers have to use kid-friendly euphemisms for the characters’ potential fates. Even the animation and character designs are second-rate, taking a simple picture book and turning it into another cynical, hyperactive cash-in.