It’s easy to see that Ferdinand is … really big. In fact, it’s hard to miss much about this huge, muscular bull. If you saw him lounging peacefully in the shade of his favorite cork tree, on a hill overlooking the flower-strewn valley that makes up his home, you’d still want to give him as wide a berth as possible. He looks that large and scary.
But looks can be deceiving. And that’s particularly true with Ferdinand.
His father, you see, was killed in a local bullfight, prompting Ferdinand to flee from the bull-training camp known as Casa del Toro. Since then, he’s sought nothing more than a peaceful, loving existence. And as good fortune would have it, he finds it with a young girl named Nina and her adoring father, Juan. They rescue Ferdinand when he was just a lost and battered young calf. And they brought him home to their flower farm.
Yes, Ferdinand has since grown to be the threatening size of a small mountain. But he’s a sweet mountain. And he’s only ever used his muscle and girth to help his human family with their heavy lifting. Other than that, he spends his time cuddling with Nina, sniffing the wonderfully scented flowers and sitting up on that beautiful hillside.
Of course, even gentle, loving bulls can sometimes make really dumb choices. One day during the local flower festival—his favorite time of the year—Ferdinand makes the worst choice ever.
Instead of staying safely on the farm as Juan told him to do, Ferdinand can’t keep from ambling into town after Juan and Nina. He just wants to see the incredible festivities and catch scent of the rich perfume of flowers in the air. But a gigantic bull in the crowded heart of town can cause just a wee bit of panic. Throw in the fact that Ferdinand accidentally sits on a bee (another creature enjoying the flowery surroundings) and things get a little crazy. I mean what would you do if a bee zapped you in the backside?
Before you can say “¡Ándele! Ándele!” Ferdinand is captured by the authorities, packed up and delivered back to none other than Casa del Toro once again. Not only that, but the famous bullfighter El Primero eyes him for an upcoming bullfight. Why, it’s being said that Ferdinand is so savage and so fierce that he recently destroyed a village and even *ate a baby!
Of course, that’s nothing but nonsense. He actually *saved the baby. And the village was only … partly destroyed. But no matter: Ferdinand is certainly in a fix now. For as all the other bulls make eminently clear, when you’re at Casa del Toro, you’re either a fighter … or you’re meat!
This animated movie lets kids know that they don’t have to be swayed by bullies or forced into doing what their peers think they should. They should follow their own dreams and desires while reaching out to those around them in kindness and friendship, it says. For instance, even though Ferdinand is forced back into the world of bullfighting, he doesn’t abandon his pacifist ideals. He does what he thinks is right and helps the other bulls work through their own struggles.
The film also suggests that even when circumstances seem to be out of control, we have the power to do the right thing nonetheless: We can help others and learn to control our own runaway emotions. “If we don’t look out for each other, who will?” Ferdinand states before stepping forward to save a friend. In fact, Ferdinand decides at one point to give himself over to almost certain death to rescue his friends.
Ferdinand’s loving father suggests that a bull’s existence is not a kind one. And even though he wishes it could be better for his son, he doesn’t believe that it’s possible. However, by film’s end we see that things can change, given the right choices. On the other hand, it’s also made very plain that ignoring parental guidance and making selfish choices can result in detrimental consequences.
We see a few Catholic nuns walking the streets of a village near Ferdinand’s farm. Ferdinand gets tangled up in some laundry—putting him in what looks like a priest’s collar—and the nuns cross themselves, saying, “Ave Maria.” A few other jokes involve these nuns as well. They hold up a cross to ward off the rampaging Ferdinand at one point. They also cross themselves in a panic when they mistakenly think an elderly woman is sitting up out of a coffin.
A trio of hedgehogs named Una, Dos and Cuatro likewise cross themselves when they mention their missing friend Tres. While attempting to revive a fainting bunny, a goat named Lupe cries out, “Don’t go into the light!” El Primero kneels quietly before his bullfight in what looks to be a silent prayer.
A trio of trained German horses take particular pleasure in goading Ferdinand. “I bet his parents weren’t even related,” one snorts. The matador El Primero flexes his buttocks as a show of his muscular prowess.
Though the bulls at Casa del Toro believe they are training to “fight for glory” in the bullring—with the expectation that a strong bull can actually return after a victory—that’s obviously never the case. We never see any death or bloodletting, but we’re told about it. “I’m here to soothe you now so you can maim and gore later,” Lupe tells Ferdinand.
In fact, Ferdinand eventually finds himself in front of a large wall decorated with the horns of all the many bulls that have fallen in the fights, including those of his father.
As mentioned, bulls that cannot fight are sent to the “chop house” on a nearby hill. “You either fight or you’re meat!” a bull declares. Young viewers may find this idea upsetting. (Two bulls are carted off to the chop house. But while we do see that building’s swirling saw blades, we never witness any of the alluded-to butchering onscreen.) [Spoiler Warning] Ferdinand eventually sets the chop house’s prisoners free.
There are quite a few thumping pratfalls as a part of the bull training activities. Horses and bulls also shock themselves as they hit an electrified fence. El Primero slashes at Ferdinand with his sword and small lances, slicing the bull’s flank at one point. Ferdinand barely misses crushing a bunny, and the poor animal faints from the shock of the near-death encounter.
A handful of exclamations include “oh my gosh,” “geez Louise” and “holy cow.” Someone is called a “loser.” We hear a couple of verbal references to a “bull’s butt.”
Lupe, the rather loopy goat, refers to Ferdinand by a number of quirky nicknames, including “F-stop,” and the unexplained “F-bomb” on one occasion.
As you might expect with a film about bulls and other animals, a handful of toilet giggles turn up. Upon first meeting the enormous Ferdinand, for instance, Lupe the goat says, “Can’t wait to show you off to the rest of the guys. They’re gonna fertilize the yard!” Lupe also has a tendency to eat anything that’s in her path; she later regurgitates items she might need. We also see some bullying, though the story as a whole roundly condemns that behavior.
It’s likely that you may have owned, or were once read The Story of Ferdinand. That classic children’s book has been reproduced in more than 60 languages and, amazingly in our digital era, has never gone out of print since its original publication in 1936. You might also have seen the Disney short about that tale, too.
With that in mind, it would be natural to think that such a small, sweet story might well be overstretched here, at 106 minutes of screen time. Or, for that matter, you could just be flat out irked that Hollywood is once again messing with your childhood memories. However, there’s actually more to this bumblebee-spurred big screen bullfight than you might expect.
The latest animated version of Ferdinand is certainly colorful and fun. It packs a familiar message about not, uh, kowtowing to others’ unhealthy expectations of us. But that’s not the only message here. Packed into this romping, bull-in-a-china-shop adventure, we’re also treated to significant lessons about friendship. We hear encouragement to make upright choices. And we’re given solid examples of what it looks like to rein in our emotions when things get a little too frustrating or scary.
That said, the film’s characters do face some perilous situations here—especially the ominous bulls-either-fight-or-get-sent-to-the-chop-house menace. But even those moments are used to support the movie lessons.
Like the flower-loving bull at its heart, this Ferdinand isn’t just another one-trick Toro. And it encourages it’s young viewers to think outside their day-to-day bullring, too.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.