I sometimes think the people who panic about ‘the gay agenda’ really ought to pay more attention to kids’ movies. If you’re looking for queer narrative – which never say they’re queer – you don’t have to look much further. For a start, nearly every animated movie revolves around the theme of being true to yourself. You also have numerous movies about parents finding it difficult to accept difference in their child, that child being a misfit who’s not the same as others and is often bullied for it, and who will eventually win by accepting themselves and being proud of it.
All that could just be coincidence, but then there are things such as the fact that a lot of animated movies consciously deal with ideas about chosen families, something you normally only hear about in a queer context. It was this that got me considering the queer side of Ferdinand. Partway though the film, the titular character is insisting the dog he grew up with is his ‘brother’, while the dog says he can’t be the family of a bull because that’s not the way things work. Ultimately that becomes the main theme of the movie – a bull rejecting the toxic masculinity that the other bovines believe is their only choice, and learning that you can choose your own way and your own family, and it doesn’t matter if others think it’s ‘queer’.
That bull is Ferdinand, who has always preferred flowers to fighting. However, his father and friends all think that going into the ring against a matador is the only option for them and the greatest thing they can possibly do. Ferdinand manages to escape the bull farm and spends the rest of his childhood on a farm where he can be as gentle as he likes. However, after a series of misunderstandings and provocations, the enormous, fully-grown Ferdinand is mistaken for a truly fearsome bull and set up for a fight with a famous matador.
Ferdinand is a fun film, although one with a few problems. Trying to turn Munro Leaf’s relatively short original 1936 story, The Story of Ferdinand, into a feature film means the whole thing feels rather padded out and haphazard. Some of the side characters rely on slightly lazy stereotypes and add little to the overall film. Younger family members probably won’t mind as it’s all very light, bright and silly, but older viewers may feel the movie is a bit messy and could have done with some story tightening and less reliance on random set-pieces. Even so, it’s an enjoyable ride, helped enormously by a truly charming voice performance from John Cena in the title role, and Kate McKinnon as his goat sidekick.
The special features on the Blu-ray are also quite fun, and again there’s a little unexpected LGBT interest as one of the camp horses essentially admits he’s gay. Although it’s hinted at in the movie, in the features he admits he thinks Ferdinand is cute. It’s not commented on or highlighted, and while it may not be in the film itself, it still feels like a step forward to have it so nonchalantly mentioned in the features of mainstream Hollywood animated movie.
Overall Verdict: Messy around the edges and not quite sure how to expand the short story to feature length, Ferdinand is still sweet and entertaining with more LGBT interest than you might expect.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac