Why do these thin children’s stories get blown out of proportion for feature length films? The greatness of something like The Story of Ferdinand is how such a slim story manages to pack such heart and emotion, and expanding it eventually means the studio enforced aesthetics takeover. That means we get an extended scene where Ferdinand, his goat friend/trainer, and fellow bulls engage in a dance off with a trio of Teutonic horses. If you’ve ever wondered what a cartoon bull would look like twerking, dabbing, and break dancing, well have I got the movie for you! For the rest of us, Ferdinand is a perfectly generic piece of studio blandness.
It also must be said that Ferdinand’s animation is just strange. For all of the personality and artistry put into its animal characters, the human characters are curiously flat, lifeless, and sharp angles made into various androids with limited emotive capabilities. Compared to Kate McKinnon’s eccentric goat, David Tennant’s Scottish bull, and John Cena’s central character, the humans don’t even look like they belong in the same frame.
Created where it’s due, for all of its various problems in episodic storytelling and bloated pieces, John Cena’s voice work is surprisingly strong. He manages to find just the right amount of strength, vulnerability, tenderness, and goofy charm for the role. He’s also smart enough to play straight man to the insane ramblings of McKinnon, who manages to invest her CGI goat with the same manic energy she brings to her live-action roles. They don’t salvage the film from being formulaic (there’s some anti-bullying messaging in there somewhere), but they do manage to make it fitfully entertaining and endurable. That’s about the highest praise I can give Ferdinand.