John Cena and David Tennant lend their voices to an overcrowded but endearing animation
Neither prime grade nor old bull, this bovine animation is an amiable enough enterprise from Blue Sky, the studio the Ice Age movies built. Director Carlos Saldanha – a Blue Sky regular – extracts plenty that's endearing from a busy script, not least a lightly landed message: don't judge a bull by its horns. Or eat it. But this tender(loin) tale is neither focused, affecting or innovative enough to stand out in the animation field, much less match the studio's best outing, The Peanuts Movie.
Drawing on Munro Leaf's 1936 book, the titular hero is a broad-of-haunch Spanish bull with a big-of-heart twist: he prefers sniffing flowers over flaring nostrils at toreros. Gamely voiced by cheesy beefcake John Cena, Ferdinand gets into bother when his clumsiness at a flower festival leaves him branded a beast. Shipped to a farm, this misunderstood monster joins other animal misfits, Ice Age-style, on a quest to flee his fate: death, in the slaughterhouse or bullring.
Between Ferdinand and his crew, Blue Sky's flair for charming characters and team-play is well-displayed, albeit rarely prodded into new shapes. The bull's soulful eyes, dopey grin and shiny hide are lovably realised, if not far removed from Ice Age's sweet fool Sid. Kate McKinnon channels the comic influence of Pixar's Dory as dizzy goat Lupe, leaving David Tennant to have the most fun, unleashing a torrent of Scottishness as a bull called – what else? – Angus.
Elsewhere, amusing trios of preening show-ponies and buccaneering hedgehogs expand the line-up, providing plenty of laughs yet saddling the writers with too much material to shepherd. Although various great escapes and chases offer amusing distractions, a traffic-jam scene sums up the plot and character development: it's simply too crowded to move. While only McDonald's junkies could fail to warm to Ferdinand himself, the story around him could have used more finesse.
General release from Sat 9 Dec.