Ferdinand is a robust, magnificently-horned, barrel-chested bull. He’s got a big heart, but is often mistaken for a wild and dangerous beast, when actually what he loves most is flowers and affection. Because, despite his size and his sheer brute strength, when we watch his new, self-titled movie, we come to learn that under his tough-nut exterior, Ferdinand has a heart of gold. Little wonder director Carlos Saldanha (of Ice Age fame) had eyes for only one man when it came to casting the role.
WWE wrestling icon John Cena – who since diversifying from his career in spangly boots has been carving himself out a decent, Dwayne Johnson-like second job as an actor – lends his voice to Ferdinand’s animated bull, and the results are predictably terrific.
Plotwise, the drama begins when Ferdinand accidently unleashes chaos at a flower market after a bee sting on the behind sends him careering into and demolishing a flower stall. This sets off a chain of events that sees him accidentally destruct half the town and fleetingly (and obliviously) abduct a baby, incurring the wrath of the villagers who come running with their pitchforks.
His journey will, of course, as is the wont of Hollywood screenwriters, be both hysterical and heartwarming, with an important message about following your heart. But this great self-discovery won’t be unearthed until after Ferdinand has found himself unceremoniously dragged away in ropes and torn from his devastated family – a farmer and his young daughter Nina, who also happens to be our hero’s best friend.
This bond between girl and bull proves utterly charming in the final movie, and as we see the pair growing up together, the message is clear for young kids: not all of your friends have to look the same as you.
“Those are the kind of things that make this story so special, I think,” says Cena. “It’s a story about a bull who’s larger than life and everyone thinks because of the way he looks he’s destined for a certain profession, but he is very strong in standing up for living his life in the way he chooses. That’s important. The story is great but I [also] think moviegoers young and old will take their own message from it.”
Cena may have spent the majority of his career pummelling punks in the ring, but in person he is warm and borderline cuddly, waxing lyrical about the movie’s themes, and why they resonated with him so much when he first read the script.
“It’s just so well done that everyone will sit down and enjoy the film but then be able to talk about something afterwards,” he says. “[It’s important that] we can engage in conversation about what we see.”
What we do see, when we first meet him, is Ferdinand as a young calf, where he is being raised on a bull farm to eventually face his fate in the bull ring. From an early age, Ferdinand is rejected by his fellow bulls for his refusal to fight them, preferring to smell flowers and play harmoniously, but in this film life for a bull can only go one way.
And, of course, as with any decent movie, we have our villain, in this case the pompous El Primero (played by Miguel Ángel Silvestre), a legendary but wildly egotistical bullfighter who wants to defeat the most fearsome of them before retiring. By some ludicrous mishap, he decides Ferdinand is that bull...
Joining El Primero in the snobbery stakes are a German stallion and his two fancy fillies, who (despite being from Deutschland) starkly remind us of the cast of Made in Chelsea. And while their nasally proclamations of “staying away from those dharty bowls” have us howling, their elitism also delivers an important message to the young ones.
“It’s very much something I preach in WWE,” says Cena. “Be proud of who you are and never sacrifice what you believe in for the pressure of those in the outside world constantly wanting you to change. You cannot please everyone and at least if you’re true to yourself you can be happy with who you are.” It is a fine statement from a fine role model, who may have biceps as big as your head, but clearly has a huge heart to match them.
Ferdinand is in cinemas across the UAE now.