Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Ferdinand (2017)

Ferdinand (John Cena) is a bull raised to fight in the arena. However, he's not into any of that and just wants to appreciate the peace and beauty in life. And so he seeks to escape his current course in life.

A children's book from the 1930s gets its first feature length adaptation. It's actually been adapted before, back in 1938 by Disney, but that was a 7 minute short which pretty much covered everything in the book. Here, though, we have Blue Sky on the job (which was a concern seeing as they're responsible for crap like 'Ice Age' and 'Rio') and they've upped the runtime to over 100 minutes. So a lesser animation studio padding out a film that would otherwise be seven minutes long doesn't bode well. The shoddy attempt to market it all only ups the fears further. I went in not really wanting to sit through any of it.

Yet, much to my surprise, the film was okay. It wasn't brilliant but it wasn't awful. It was fine, which is not something I'd say about an animation from Blue Sky (with the Snoopy film perhaps being the one exception) considering how blandly repellent they all tend to be. Now don't get me wrong, I have issues with the film. The characters will leave a lot wanting as they all conform to whatever generic archetype/stereotype they are, the plot follows a familiar pattern to the predictable conclusion, there's the moment with a dance off between animals (that kind of thing tends to be about as uninspired as animations get), and you have all usual wacky chases and such.

That seems like a pretty big list of offences that would probably sink the film. Indeed, if the characters are lacking and the plot predictable, then what is there? I'm not quite sure, but there's something in their approach to the material that makes a difference. There's a certain level of charm in what it does and the touching on the darker moments gives it more of a complete feel. To me, that made enough of a difference as such things would run through the film and so, while it may give in to the expected slapstick and usual contrivances, there are frequent times where the film doesn't rush itself and is willing to sit back and quietly develop things. Other times it will directly address the more brutal aspects of a bull's life which, from the perspective of these characters, actually carries impact even if you don't actually see anything.

The problem is that the film cannot fully commit to this stuff and so it will go back on itself and undermine what it has done just so it remains very kid friendly. If I'm being honest, I felt a little cheated when one bull gets sent to the meat factory halfway through the film only to conveniently still be alive to rescue near the end. It's like Boxer escaping the glue factory.

But I guess it is a film aimed at the young and, as those films go, it's fine. While I would have preferred it to show some balls (metaphorically - I could do without them animating them on their male-dominated characters) and cut down on the slapstick & wackiness and go for the bolder options, I can understand why they didn't. As such, it's a likable and watchable film on a simple level which shows sparks of deeper promise but is content to remain as it is.

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