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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Ferdinand is an animated movie based on Munro Leaf's classic children's book about a bull who prefers flowers and friendship to aggression and fighting. The movie has strong messages of nonviolence, respect for Ferdinand's principles, and the friendships that can develop between creatures who are very different from each other. Ferdinand finds clever ways to avoid violence and conflict, including humor and kindness. That said, in some scenes, Ferdinand and other bulls (particularly those who aren't physically large and aggressive) are called things like "soft," "flower boy," "loser," and "dork," though the message sent by these names is ultimately undermined by Ferdinand's nonviolent triumph. Expect a few potentially sad and/or scary scenes: Ferdinand is slashed with a spear when he's trying to avoid a bullfight, a tense rescue scene takes place in a meat-processing facility, a baby is in danger in a large crowd (Ferdinand protects her), and Ferdinand sends people flying into the air (no one appears hurt). One character says that either bulls die in the bullring or go to the "chop shop." A young bull loses his dad (offscreen); we see him searching for his father and crying when he realizes his dad won't be coming back. There's some crude humor and innuendo: One character says a bunch of bulls will "fertilize the lawn" after being surprised, and a female character admires a male character's physique. And while Ferdinand is a strong, confident character who's a great role model of courage and compassion, some supporting characters are depicted a little stereotypically: An aggressive bull is voiced by an Italian actor with "tough mob guy" flavor, and some horses are given German accents and snooty "European" mannerisms.
What's the story?
FERDINAND (John Cena) was born to be a fighting bull, bred to compete with matadors in the Spanish bullfighting ring. But he prefers flowers and friendship to training and fighting, which disgusts and mystifies many other bulls at the farm, including tough Valiente (Bobby Cannavale). When Ferdinand discovers the true fate of fighting bulls -- death, not the glory promised by Ferdinand's powerful father (Jeremy Sisto) -- he makes a desperate bid for freedom and finds a happy home at the flower farm of Juan (Juanes) and his daughter, Nina (Lily Day). Life is beautiful on the farm until the fateful day Ferdinand is mistaken for a dangerous beast and forced into a matador battle. Can he escape without anyone getting hurt -- especially him?
Is it any good?
Based on the 1936 children's book The Story of Ferdinand, this charming tale about a lover-not-a-fighter bull is surprisingly relevant for a vintage property. Ferdinand is a gentle giant who's -- literally -- bullied by his peers. They tell him, in not so friendly ways, that fighting is expected of him, and that his habit of admiring and sniffing flowers is suspect. It's a message that may resonate with children who struggle with traditional gender roles (and the parents who work hard to support them). When Ferdinand finally escapes the bare, brutal farm on which he was raised and gallops up a green hill strewn with flowers, we see that he's found a place where he can be himself, accepted and appreciated just as he is. It's positively beautiful, and sensitive viewers may find themselves welling up while wishing every person who doesn't feel like they fit in could find a place just like that.
For their part, young viewers will find Ferdinand lots of fun. A trio of wisecracking manic hedgehogs keeps Ferdinand on his toes during the movie's second act, and Ferdinand's "calming goat," Lupe (Kate McKinnon), is a lovable goofball in the Dory tradition. The songs are a little anemic, and there are a few plot holes (why doesn't Nina age as Ferdinand grows from calf to bull?), but the serious message this movie sends is a great one for our times, or any times. "It looks like weird is the new normal," observes one character -- and if that's not true, it ought to be.
Talk to your kids about ...
Why do you think stories about young characters who run away and go through difficult experiences to find out about themselves are popular? What does Ferdinand learn? How do his experiences away from the farm help him grow? Could he have grown in the same way if he didn't return to the farm after living with Juan and Nina? Do difficult experiences teach us more than easy ones?
Is Ferdinand a hero? What ways would you want to be like Ferdinand, and what ways would you want to be different? How does his character defy gender stereotypes? Why is it important for kids to see a wide range of behavior from both genders in the media they consume?
- In theaters: December 15, 2017
- Cast: John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Gina Rodriguez
- Director: Carlos Saldanha
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Book characters, Horses and farm animals
- Character strengths: Compassion, Courage
- Run time: 106 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: rude humor, action and some thematic elements
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.