At the Cinemark


Grade: B

Ferdinand is quite clearly a Quaker bull.

“Can I be the champion of not fighting?” Ferdinand asks his father.

Rather than snorting and charging, Ferdinand prefers to lie down and smell the flowers.

Written in 1936 by Munro Leaf, “The Story of Ferdinand” is a short children’s book written simply and lyrically, in a style E.B. White could appreciate.

“Once upon a time in Spain, there was a little bull and his name was Ferdinand,” begins the much-loved tale. “All the other little bulls he lived with would run and jump and butt their heads together. He liked to sit just quietly and smell the flowers.”

Even though Ferdinand would grow into the largest of bulls, he remained steadfastly sweet and gentle all his life.

A number reports say Gandhi loved the book, and a few sources say it was Gandhi’s “favorite.”

Leaf says he wrote the story in just 40 minutes – in hopes his friend, a starving illustrator, would be able to illustrate the book and make some money. Mission accomplished: The book has sold more than 2.5 million copies. Not bad for 40 minutes of work. (My math says about $16 million per hour.)

Disney has adapted this story as an animated film for the holidays. As is always the case, those of us who love the book always shudder in anticipation of what Disney might do.

In particular, I worried that both the pacifist and animal rights themes would be diluted into pure silliness, as the mouse house loves to do.

The verdict? Mixed.

Yes, silliness abounds including dancing horses, a calming goat, an Irish angus and purple hedgehogs. In one patronizing scene all the bulls pile into a truck and head down the freeway, with a goat driving. Kids are smarter than this, Walt.

But just when I was about to abandon all hope (ye who enter here), the script returns to the values of the book.

The script does not flinch in describing the “chop shop” where bulls are slaughtered. Bullfights are described vividly as a place where bulls are tortured and killed.

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“My dad he was the greatest bull I knew. He really believed he can beat the matador. All of them did,” said Ferdinand. “But the bull never wins. No bull ever wins.”

The camera pans slowly across a wall full of bull horns, each one killed by a matador, who are pictured triumphant.

Ferdinand is crying as he looks at his dad’s photo. His dad never returned the day he was picked to face a matador. From that moment on, Ferdinand became a bull who refused to fight.

So the social messages are clear, including human rights and animal rights.

But the film clearly tilts more towards laughter than social justice. SNL’s Kate McKinnon, for example, has great fun being an old goat. Peyton Manning voices Guapo the bull.

But the Quaker message that even bulls should smell roses is not lost amidst the laughter.

Let’s let Munro take us back to the pasture.

“And for all I know, he is still there, under then cork tree, sitting just quietly smelling the flowers.”


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