A Year in Shorts Day 44: "Ferdinand the Bull"
I know what you’re thinking. Ferdinand the Bull? The Oscar-winning 1938 Disney short directed by Dick Rickard? What does that have to do with Christmas? (You may not have thought all those words specifically.) Well guess what doubters? Ferdinand the Bull is a beloved Christmas tradition in several countries, most notably Sweden, and they broadcast on TV there every Christmas Eve! And if Die Hard has taught us anything, if you watch it every Christmas season, it’s a Christmas movie!
Chances are most of you have seen this short, or at least have read Munro Leaf's The Story of Ferdinand. Some of you may have even seen the animated movie starring John Cena which came out a few years ago! Who knows? Life is wonderful like that.
Anyway, for those of you who don't know, Ferdinand the Bull is the story of a bull (named Ferdinand) who is very gentle and kind and loves flowers. Which is all fine and good of course, except for bulls are expected to be aggressive and violent so they can fight other bulls and then go participate in bullfights. Ferdinand doesn't want any of that, but of course fate intervenes and he's whisked off to fight a matador.
It's a very simple story, but it's very effective and very well done. The short is narrated by Don Wilson, who does an excellent job of making you feel like you're watching a storybook come to life. It's not a very flashy performance, but it's funny and charming. The animation is also wonderful, too. The human characters are animated very expressively, and the painted backgrounds are all gorgeous. And sprinkled throughout are a variety of cartoony sight gags that are clever without being distracting. The whole thing reminds of Disney's later film, Pinocchio, which can only be a good thing.
I think there's also a good message in the short about how it's ok for men not to conform to society's expectations for them to be tough and masculine. Ferdinand just wants to sit under a tree and smell flowers, and the film doesn't judge him for it. You would hope that's not a lesson that still needs to be taught over eighty years later, but here we are.
Of the five nominees for Best Animated Short in 1938, four of them were Walt Disney productions. (The fifth was a mercifully obscure short entitled Hunky and Spunky). While I think The Brave Little Tailor might have been slightly more deserving (although we'll see if my opinion doesn't change when we cover that short next year), Ferdinand the Bull was a respectable choice. It's a cute, funny short with some lovely animation and a nice moral for kids and adults alike.
And sometimes that's all you need.
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"Ferdinand the Bull" is available to watch on Disney +
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