Bland Ferdinand could use more bull

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      Featuring the voice of John Cena. Rated G 

      What the new animated feature Ferdinand lacks in action it somewhat makes up for in heart. But that’s not likely to be enough to lure your eight-year-old from the lightsaber rattling down the hall at the multiplex.

      Not that nonstop action should be expected here: this is, after all, the story of a bull who would rather stop and smell the roses than charge at a matador in the ring. Based on Munro Leaf’s classic 1936 book, the new movie stays true to the source material’s gentle warmth, but will likely bore anyone other than smaller children.

      That’s kind of ironic when you consider that the real themes—though adeptly glossed over here—are quite brutal. Ferdinand is raised by a loving farmgirl and her father, but when he grows into a giant, he’s taken to the Casa del Toro, where his only options are to fight in the ring or get sent to “the chophouse”. He’s relentlessly bullied by the other toros-in-training for being “soft”.

      Ferdinand gets a little more fun when Saturday Night Live’s warped Kate McKinnon arrives to voice a daffy, buck-toothed goat—a kind of furry farmyard Dory—who tries to train the benevolent beast. And there’s a comical dance-off between them and the judgy German show ponies who share the pasture, leading to a well-hyped bull-in-a-china-shop, or at least Andalusian-ceramics-store, scene.

      The folks at BlueSky, the studio behind Ice Age, have a knack for physical humour, and the characters here are a fun blend of rubbery faces and storybook cuteness. The settings, too, including the idyllic Roman bridge and rolling hills around Ronda, Spain, create a vivid world. But, compared with, say, Coco, there’s relatively little cultural flavour to this outing—most noticeably in a bland, flamenco-guitar-free soundtrack.

      Ferdinand provides the kind of be-yourself, make-love-not-war, antibullying messages kids probably need right now. But unfortunately, as adorable as its flower-crazy bovine hero may be, it doesn’t do that with enough magic to get them to actually stick.