Ferdinand Packs A Powerful Message – Movie Review

This week, my family and I went to see the new movie Ferdinand. Ferdinand is based on the classic children’s book by Munro Leaf, and tells the story of an unusual bull that is more interested in flowers than in fighting in the bullfighting ring.

I’ve long been a fan of Ferdinand, having first seen the Academy Award-winning 1938 Disney short as a kid. My grandparents had a copy of the book that my sister and I read countless times. The original story is a classic “fish out of water” tale, in which the protagonist finds himself mistaken for a ferocious bull after he’s stung by a bee. He ends up being dragged to Madrid to compete in the bullfighting ring, and manages to escape a terrible fate by not fighting.

Ferdinand the Pacifist?

This charming children’s story has also been a source of controversy since its publication in 1936. The tale of a peaceful young bull who prefers peaceful contemplation to carnage was quickly perceived as having a pacifistic message. Consequently, both Hitler and Franco famously banned the book. The story wasn’t published in Spain until after Franco’s death in 1975! 

Even as a kid, I always found the story somewhat implausible. I suppose it reflects my skeptical nature, but I had a hard time believing they left Ferdinand off the hook so easily.

Thankfully, the 2017 film takes the story in a new direction. Ferdinand manages to escape a bullfighting camp quite early in the story. Fortunately, he’s rescued by a loving family that appreciates him for his kind nature, rather than his fighting prowess. However, thanks to a mishap at a flower festival (involving a bee, in a nod to the original story), he ends up returning to his old stomping grounds. Ferdinand quickly learns that fighting in the ring is not a legitimate path to freedom for either himself or his friends in the training camp, and he sets out to save himself and the other bulls.

Seeing The Story of Ferdinand in a New Light

I was really impressed with Blue Sky Studios’ willingness to approach this story from a new angle. The new story of Ferdinand still celebrates the idea of being yourself. But unlike the classic version, instead of focusing purely on Ferdinand’s unique personality, it pursues the idea that all sentient beings deserve the freedom to define their own lives. It’s unapologetically a film about animal rights, and they don’t shy away from the harsh realities of life for farmed animals. There’s even an entire scene that takes place in slaughterhouse. Critically, throughout that scene, the filmmakers manage to walk the line between humorous and scary. It’s very well done, and as I explain in my video review, as a parent with young kids I was relieved that it wasn’t too frightening (though my kids did need to be reassured that Ferdinand would be okay).

Ferdinand is a lovely film that presents a very clear message about bullfighting, together with a strong overall message about animal rights. It’s not to be missed!

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