Rated PG, 107 minutes
Who knew that bulls had a soft side? That's the premise of the charming new animated film "Ferdinand," about an unconventional bull who'd rather smell flowers and take care of butterflies than fight. It treads familiar territory, especially with so many zany, talking animals, but regardless of whether "Ferdinand" fights or not, it comes up mostly a winner.
Ferdinand (pro-wrestler John Cena) is a Spanish Fighting Bull who prefers smelling the flowers and practicing non-violence rather than chasing red cloths held by matadors in arenas. But when disaster comes to him, he is taken to a fighting stadium, and Ferdinand needs to decide if he is a fighting bull or a flower smelling, generous bull, in order to earn his freedom.
The entertaining, colorful "Ferdinand" is directed by "Ice Age: Meltdown" and "Robots'" Carlos Saldanha, and is co-written by Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle and Brad Copeland, and loosely based on the beloved children's book "The Story of Ferdinand" by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson. This story of a non-violent, sensitive and caring bull could've easily gone down an oversentimental, touchy-feely path, but instead opts for lots laughs, which works with its message of kindness nicely.
The fun "Ferdinand" benefits from a strong voice cast, included some inspired voice casting by having wrestler Cena as the lead character; he does a serviceable enough job but is clearly upstaged by "Saturday Night Live's" Emmy-winner Kate McKinnon, who's becoming known for stealing movies, and she does here again as a talky sidekick goat named Lupe, who wants to be a coach; her memorable energy and lines ("you're killing me!") provide the film with some its more hilarious moments.
There are laughs from some Ferdinand's fellow bulls: that's retired pro-footballer Peyton Manning (yes, that Peyton Manning) as a bull with issues; "Blackish's" Anthony Anderson as a smaller-than-life bull, "Doctor Who's" David Tennant as an Irish bull with visibility problems, and Emmy-winner Bobby Cannavale ("Boardwalk Empire") as an antagonistic bull. Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs and Gabriel Iglesias are those crafty hedgehogs who prove to be useful to Ferdinand.
The extended climax has a few too many zany moments (animals driving vehicles makes things a little too silly), but it ends with a familiar yet heartwarming message that it's better to be kind than mean, and with such a pleasant film such as "Ferdinand," that's not a load of bull. A decent animated entry that the entire family should enjoy.
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