Of course there’s a sequence in Ferdinand in which the titular bull inadvertently plows through a china shop. When apprehended afterward, he innocently proclaims: “This is not necessary!”

You might think the same thing of this animated adventure based on the famed children’s book, which is a heartfelt crowd-pleaser that’s more visually than dramatically appealing.

As the story opens, young Ferdinand (voiced by Colin Murphy) is naïve to what happens to bulls raised at his Spanish breeding farm, until his father (Jeremy Sisto) is taken away for a bullfight and doesn’t return.

Ferdinand prefers flowers to fighting, so he escapes to a small village, where he becomes the beloved pet of a girl (Lily Day) and her single father. However, it’s not long before his size and appetite outgrow their modest house, and a mischievous incident leads him back to captivity.

That’s where kind-hearted Ferdinand (John Cena) is reunited with a ragtag group of friends along with a rival (Bobby Cannavale), realizing that eventually he must either fight a legendary matador (Raul Esparza) or risk heading to the slaughterhouse.

As directed by Carlos Saldanha (Rio), the crisply detailed computer animation includes detailed background texture and richly colorful characters. That’s nothing new these days, necessarily, but the craftsmanship is technically solid, as is the accompanying charismatic voice work by Cena and others.

The uneven and somewhat uninspired screenplay is more problematic, relying on the tendency to fill every frame with as much mayhem as possible presumably in an effort to combat short-attention spans among the target demographic. And while children might enjoy the constant chaos supplied by the anthropomorphic creatures, there’s not much room for meaningful character development or deeper exploration of narrative themes.

The source material, written by Munro Leaf in 1936, manages to balance charm and whimsy with a subtle commentary about nonconformity, peaceful conflict resolution and animal rights. Some of those characteristics seem watered down as the material is expanded to feature length with the obligatory introduction of quirky sidekicks and elaborate action sequences.

Ferdinand is breezy and innocuous, yet seems to miss an opportunity. The result has plenty of bull, but not enough horns.


Rated PG, 106 minutes.