May 11, 2015

Review: Ferdinand the Bull (1938)

Unbeknownst to me until after I had finished my post-movie reading, Ferdinand the Bull is actually based off of an illustrated children's book called The Story of Ferdinand by American author Munro Leaf. It was published right before the Spanish Civil War and caused an uproar all across Europe as it was deemed to be carrying a pacifist message. With a story centered around a bull who would rather smell flowers than fight, it was banned in quite a few countries as a result.


At a Glance

Genre: animation, short, comedy
Directed by: Dick Rickard
Produced by: Walt Disney
Written by: Munro Leaf, Robert Lawson
Music by: Albert Hay Malotte
Running time: 8 minutes
Production company: Walt Disney Productions
Distributed by: RKO Radio Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: N/A
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry

Starring: Don Wilson, Milt Kahl



Ferdinand (voice: Milt Kahl) is a young bull who loves to sit under a certain tree and smell the flowers. He never tires of it, even as his fellow peers prefer to constantly butt heads together in competition. Ferdinand's mother is understanding of her son and even as he grows older, Ferdinand continues to sit under that same tree and smell the flowers. When men come along looks for bulls to take part in the bullfights in Madrid, Ferdinand isn't concerned in the least about being picked.


No question that one of the best things about Ferdinand the Bull is Don Wilson acting as the narrator. For long stretches of Ferdinand the Bull, Wilson keeps his voice to a slow drawl before completely unleashing himself for the bullfight that later happens. It's a great performance and there's no question that Wilson brings this Disney animation to life. It's pretty much like getting the best possible reading of a children's book without picking up the book yourself.

The animation here is predictably solid. Where it's particularly impressive though is in the Madrid bullfighting ring. With a large crowd and important establishing shots to do, the Disney animators don't disappoint. I particularly liked the entrance of the banderilleros, the picadores and the matador that's also very well timed to the score. OK, the Spaniards look and sound a little stereotypical, but this is 1938 and I think we can cut Disney a bit of slack.

Although the short appears to be a gentle and thoughtful little family cartoon, there's a real message that's just below the surface. It's more than easy to see why Leaf's children book riled up so many country leaders. On the surface, Ferdinand might seem a little dim-witted with his incessant flower smelling, but I think it's pretty clear what Leaf and Disney were trying to say at the end of Ferdinand the Bull. At the end of the day, I think we could all use a little more time devoted to smelling the flowers.

Ferdinand the Bull ended up winning Best Animated Short at the Academy Awards and I can see why. It's nicely put together, it's got Don Wilson's narration and it's quite funny to boot. The anti-war message of FtB is what really makes it special though. At the same time, it's not something that's in your face either. Kind of like how Arthur Miller's The Crucible is an allegory for Mcarthyism. I for one think that everyone could benefit from taking a page out of Ferdinand's flower-smelling book.



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