Ferdinand fills out the classic story with extra bull (and hedgehogs, horses and goats)

By Liam Lacey

Rating: B

 The phrase "long-awaited" certainly applies to Ferdinand, the new animated feature film from director Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age, Rio). 

How long? The movie is adapted from The Story of Ferdinand, the 1936 children’s book, written by American writer, Munro Leaf. It tells the story of a fighting bull, raised on an Andalusian farm, who prefers sniffing flowers to trying to gore matadors. Released just months before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Ferdinand was banned by General Francisco Franco as pacifist propaganda.  On the other hand, it got a thumbs-up from another world leader, Mahatma Gandhi, who said it was one of his favourite books. It was made into a muy adorable seven-minute Oscar-winning film in 1938.

Believe it or not, the WWE's John Cena voicing a character who doesn't want to fight

Believe it or not, the WWE's John Cena voicing a character who doesn't want to fight

The big job of the feature is to fill out another 101 minutes, which Ferdinand does with chases, a surfeit of characters and a few amusing set pieces (the best of these gives audiences a chance to actually watch a would-be demure bull in a china shop). 

We first meet Ferdinand as a calf in the bull-training camp, Casa del Toro, as he watches his proud papa head off to the bull ring, never to return. Ferdinand, who is bullied by another bull calf, the cocky Valiente (Bobby Cannavale), escapes to another farm. There, under the tender care of a girl (Lily Day) grows up as a massive but soft-hearted teen-aged bull (voiced by John Cena). When Ferdinand crashes a local flower festival, things go badly amiss and he returns to the bull training camp just as a sinister matador, El Primero (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) is about to pick his next victim.

There are an awful lot of sidekick characters in the mix, including four other bulls (Bobby Cannavale, David Tennant, Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning and Tim Nordquist), a sheepdog (Jerrod Carmichael), a trio of blue shape-shifting hedgehogs (Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, Gabriel Iglesias) and three snobby Lipazzan horses (Boris Kodjoe, Sally Phillips, Flula Borg).  

Easily stealing the show though is Kate McKinnon's Lupe, a supposed "calming goat", with rolling eyes, a lopsided under-bite and lots of bad advice. She decides she will be Ferdinand's trainer for a fight he very much wants to avoid. While the other bulls are busy hoping for their big shot at glory in the ring, Ferdinand figures out that the game is seriously rigged against them.

Spanish locations are almost photographically accurate, including the final showdown scene in Madrid's famous neo-Moorish bull-ring, Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas. Fun real-life fact: According to bull-fighting rules, if a bull displays exceptional courage, it may be pardoned and in more than eighty years, exactly one bull has won that honour. That's not Ferdinand's story, but parents need not worry about the outcome. Generalissimo Franco will be rolling in his grave.

Ferdinand. Directed by Carlos Saldanha. Written by Robert L.Baird, Tim Federle, Brad Copeland, based on the book by Munro Leaf. Voices by John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, Gabriel Iglesias, Bobby Cannavale, David Tennant, Anthony Anderson, Flula Borg, Sally Phillips, Boris Kodjoe, Jerrod Carmichael, Raul Esparza, Karla Martinez and Miguel Angel Silvestre. Starts Thursday at Cineplex Yonge-Dundas and Silver City Yorkdale.