Once upon a time there was an individual who was superficially a great deal like other individuals, but had sufficiently different interests than the rest of them that he was ostracised and mocked. And his self-confidence and willingness to be himself held the day in the end, but only after a third-act chase scene that is tonally out-of-kilter with the strenuously wacky humor (and at times, that wackiness incorporates pop culture references that are instantaneously dated, given the lead time of animation production). And at this point, if you already bored with this review, trust me, I am too. It's just my way of accurately recreating the experience of watching Ferdinand for you, my readers.

Seriously Ferdinand the most comprehensively mediocre goddamn thing I could imagine. It's not bad, except in that it lacks even the tiniest, tossed-off element that is in any way good. It is the platonic ideal of a formulaic 2010s animated children's movie. And this is especially upsetting because the bones of it, the bones are good. The bones are, after all, inherited from the 1936 picture book The Story of Ferdinand, written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson, which in less than a thousand words presented the Ur-text of the "be yourself, special snowflake" genre of children's entertainment, while also (perhaps unintentionally) serving as one of the great works of pacifist literature in the tumult of the 1930s. It was adapted, almost completely intact, into an Oscar-winning short in 1938 by Walt Disney Productions, and herein lies the germ of the problem. Because if one can include the entirety of Leaf's narrative in less than eight minutes as Disney did, expanding it to feature length - and at 108 minutes, Ferdinand isn't just a feature, it's comfortably a feature, for a kids' film - is going to involve a lot of wheel-spinning. Wheel-spinning that might, moreover, damage the delicacy of the fable.

Haha, I said "might", as though it wasn't the most damnably obvious thing in the world that Ferdinand was going to be a giant lumpy ball of extraneous plot stuff, slopped onto Leaf's narrative structure with the absolute dead minimum of inspiration. This is a Blue Sky Studios joint - the company responsible for all those Ice Ages, as well as not just Rio, but also Rio 2. When Blue Sky does something wonderful, it is to be taken as a shocking surprise. So here's the surprise of Ferdinand: some of the character animation is really nifty, with squishy, evocative faces (the animals, at least; the humans all look like hell warmed over, and it's worse when they try to be emotionally sympathetic). And the aerial perspective in the wide shots overlooking the landscape of Seville is wonderfully done. While this not sufficient to make Ferdinand just the second-ever good Blue Sky movie, after 2015's The Peanuts Movie, it is enough to wedge it comfortably in the top half of the studio's twelve features.

So anyway, the extraneous plot stuff: sometime much more recently than 1936, several male calves are practicing the violent head-butting typical of adult bulls, hoping to stand out as the most promisingly aggressive member of their generation at Casa del Toro, a ranch apparently some decent ways outside of Madrid. The one exception is Ferdinand (Colin H. Murphy), who'd rather smell flowers, and catches no end of grief because of it. One night, after his father (Jeremy Sisto) is taken to the bullfighting ring and never returns, Ferdinand runs away, all the way to the south of Spain, where he is taken in by a flower farmer named Juan (mononymous rock star Juanes) and his daughter Nina (Julia Saldanha). Years later, Ferdindand is not just full-grown, but altogether huge (and voiced by the reasonably huge John Cena for no other apparent reason; certainly, Cena's upbeat, glib, and totally impersonal vocal talents weren't the motivation), and his days of being Nina's (Lily Day, now) constant companion have to be over. As proof, Ferdinand's attempt to visit the flower festival in the local small town end in the destruction of everything, when he accidentally goes on a rampage after being stung by a bee.  Before Nina and Juan can save him, he's captured by the authorities and sent back to Casa del Toro.

So what else are we to call that, if not "stuff"? That is a tremendous amount of work to make a great big circle, one that the original story simply skipped right over. And this is not the only time that Ferdinand plays this trick. Ultimately, it leaves most of Leaf's plot alone, which means that anything outside of a few critical points (Ferdinand loves flowers, Ferdinand accidentally has a violent outburst that recommends him for the bullring, Ferdinand refuses to fight in the ring), everything else is basically just a parenthetical. And, I guess, good on the six men who were cumulatively responsible for expanding the story and writing the script: they are busy-ass parentheticals. Ferdinand attracts the unwanted attention of a demented goat, Lupe (Kate McKinnon), who wants to become his trainer; Ferdinand endures the mockery of the same bulls who mocked him as a calf (Bobby Cannavale, Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning, and David Tennant do the honors); Ferdinand enters a meat-processing facility that has the internal logic of a 1950s Warner cartoon; Ferdinand is tormented by Lipizzan horses who are there for some reason; Ferdinand crosses paths with three hedgehogs whose primary contribution to the plot is musical numbers. And those musical numbers are set to such in-the-moment hits as "La Macarena", since those six men, and director Carlos Saldanha, apparently believe that there has only ever been one pop song in the history of the Hispanosphere.

This is all tedious, but it never falls below a certainly level of zombie-eyed proficiency. McKinnon, at least is keeping herself amused by doing lots of sound effects - Lupe has a tendency to hack things up, because as you know, goats eat trash whole - and... I don't think I had an "and". It just felt right for the cadence of the sentence. Anyway, Ferdinand is harmless, and its soft color palette and diffuse lighting scheme is comforting and honestly beautiful. It looks like a CGI movie based on a picture book should, so even if I'm absolutely scandalised that they didn't keep the clusters of corks hanging from a tree like berries from Lawson's original illustrations, at least it got one thing right about evoking the style and heart of its source material.