Just like the classic animated movies, Ferdinand taps into the collective unconscious and expresses our fears, anxieties and our dreams. It makes you feel very deeply
The tale of Ferdinand, a giant bull who prefers flowers to fighting, has captured the hearts of millions since it was first told in the 1936 book “The Story of Ferdinand” by author Munro Leaf and illustrator Robert Lawson. A warm and charming take on how appearances can be deceptive (or, why you should never judge a bull by its cover…) the book’s message of love and acceptance has resonated for decades. Now, a new generation of moviegoers can enjoy a delightful CG-animated family film inspired by the classic story with 20th Century Fox Animation and Blue Sky Studios’ Ferdinand.
This classic has been in publication for over seventy-five years, been translated into more than sixteen languages, and is included on Time’s 100 Best Children’s Books of All Time.
The book’s message of amity and acceptance is as relevant today as it was when it first came out, and serves as the perfect opportunity for parents to share this moral with even the youngest of children.
During its first run, the book sold 14,000 copies at $1 each. The following year, the sales increased to 68,000 and by 1938, the book was selling at 3,000 per week.
In 1938, it outsold Gone with the Wind to become the number one bestseller in the U.S.
The book has been translated into more than 60 languages and has never been out of print. A first-edition copy of The Story of Ferdinand sold for $16,500 in 2014.
Leaf wrote the story on a whim in an afternoon in 1935 to provide his friend, illustrator Robert Lawson a place to showcase his talents.
The story was adapted by Walt Disney as a short animated film titled Ferdinand the Bull in 1938. Directed by Dick Rickard, Ferdinand the Bull won the 1938 Academy Award for Best Short Subject Cartoon.
The story centers on the adventures of a peace-loving bull (voiced by John Cena), who is adopted by a loving farmer and daughter. However, his idyllic life changes after he’s mistaken for a vicious beast and is taken away to the last place on earth he wants to be, a bull training camp. But Ferdinand is determined to get back home. Along the way, the kind-hearted bull makes many friends and changes the lives of those he meets. But there still one great obstacle he’ll have to overcome… in the film’s thrilling climactic scene, Ferdinand has to face the matador El Primero in a packed arena, but he valiantly stays true to his peaceful nature, and inspires all those around him.
The plan to bring Ferdinand’s tale to the big screen began more than six years ago when director Carlos Saldanha, creator and director of the Rio series and director of many of the Ice Age movies, was still working on Rio 2. “I was very excited when I found out that Fox and Blue Sky were thinking of developing a movie based on the book,” recalls Saldanha. “I had read the book and fallen in love with the story and its wonderful message of acceptance and diversity. I thought that this was the right moment to take this lovely little book and develop it into a family movie for today’s audiences.”
For long-time Blue Sky Studios producer Lori Forte, the film offered a chance to reunite with Saldanha, who had worked with her on the first three Ice Age movies. “Carlos had wanted to work on a movie which had a bull as its main character,” recalls Forte. “I knew that he was passionate about this project, and his strong feelings for the story and its message also inspired me and everyone else around him.”
Another major figure in realizing the movie was producer John Davis, whose many family-friendly projects include the Dr. Dolittle and Garfield movies and Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Davis had been after the rights to “The Story of Ferdinand” for more than ten years, and when they finally became available, he jumped at the chance to acquire them and take the project to 20th Century Fox.
“Ferdinand was one of the classic books my wife and I had read our children at bedtime when they were younger,” Davis recalls. “We saw firsthand how the gentle message of this book and other similar classics informed their sense of self and morality and taught them about kindness towards others. In the past, I had made many movies based on similar properties that both my children and I felt very passionate about. The family that owned the rights to the book wanted the spirit of the book preserved, and I knew the team at Fox and Blue Sky would do justice to this wonderful story.”
Producer Bruce Anderson, who also worked with Saldanha on the two Rio movies, says Ferdinand provided him a chance to revisit one of the favorite books of his childhood. “My mom was an elementary school librarian, and this was one of our favorite go-to books,” he notes. “It has always struck a chord with me because it champions non-conformity. It shows you that the world is made of all kinds of different people, and it is that diversity that makes us better. When you are a kid and you’re not as competitive as your classmates, the message of this book can really help you find your way.”
From Page to the Big Screen
The screenplay was crafted by Robert L. Baird and Tim Federle and Brad Copeland.
Robert L. Baird has made his mark as a screenwriter on some of the most popular animated hits of the past fifteen years. He was a contributing writer on Pixar Animation Studios’ Monsters, Inc. and Golden Globe-winning Cars. He was the co-screenwriter of 2013’s Monsters University. For Walt Disney Animation Studios, Baird’s credits include 2005’s Chicken Little, 2007’s Meet the Robinsons and the 2012 animated short Tangled Ever After. In 2015 he co-wrote the screenplay for Big Hero 6” which earned an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Most recently, Baird co-wrote the screenplay for “Ferdinand“, from 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios, which will be released in December 2017. Just last month, Baird has been brought on as Co-President of Fox Animation, along side Andrea Miloro.
Tim Federle is “a prolific scribe whose breezy wit isn’t bound to a single genre” (Huffington Post). Tim’s award-winning novels include the New York Times notable books “The Great American Whatever” and “Better Nate Than Ever” — which Lin-Manuel Miranda called “a wonderful evocation of what it’s like to be a theater kid” (New York Times). Tim’s cocktail recipe books, including the worldwide bestseller “Tequila Mockingbird”, have sold over half a million copies. Recently, Tim co-wrote the Tony-nominated Broadway musical “Tuck Everlasting”, and he is developing projects for Fox Animation/Blue Sky Studios and Netflix. Tim sits on the boards of Rosie’s Theater Kids and the National Coalition Against Censorship. A native of San Francisco who grew up in Pittsburgh, he now divides his time between New York and the internet
Brad Copeland has written extensively for television and movies, including the acclaimed series Arrested Development, for which he earned three Emmy nominations, My Name Is Earl and Eastbound & Down. Copeland’s first motion picture screenplay, the biker comedy Wild Hogs, became one of the highest-grossing films of 2007. In addition, he wrote Yogi Bear and wrote and directed the 2013 cult favorite Coffee Town. Currently, Copeland is involved in the big-screen adaptation of Knight Rider and is an Executive Producer of the hit CBS series Life in Pieces,” now in its third season. Copeland was born and raised in Orlando, Fla., and currently lives in Sherman Oaks, Calif., with his wife and two sons.
The screen story is by Ron Burch & David Kidd & Don Rhymer
Ron Burch and David Kidd are currently the Executive Producers, Head Writers and Showrunners of DreamWorks Animation’s Netflix Original series Dinotrux.
Burch & Kidd got their start on the CBS sitcom, The Closer, for which they were nominated for a Primetime Emmy for the song You Don’t Know Jack, performed in the show by Michael Feinstein and Bernadette Peters. In 2000 their movie Head Over Heels was released. In 2005 their remake of Yours, Mine & Ours for Paramount and MGM was released. Burch and Kidd have developed and acted as script doctors for a number of family movies for most of the Hollywood studios including Beverly Hills Chihuahua for Disney; they also served as Story Consultants for Inspector Gadget (Disney) and Elmo in Grouchland (Columbia TriStar). They have developed television pilots for MTV, ABC Family, Warner Brothers, FX, Fox, and TBS.
Don Rhymer’s previous work includes writing the story for Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, and the screenplay for Big Momma’s House 2. His other feature comedy credits include Rio, Rio 2, Surf’s Up, Carpool, Big Momma’s House (co-written with Darryl Quarles), The Santa Clause 2, Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London, and the big-screen adaptation of The Honeymooners. Rhymer also enjoyed a successful TV career, and wrote and produced such sitcoms as The Hogan Family, Coach, Bagdad Café, Evening Shade, Hearts Afire, Caroline in the City, Chicago Sons, and Fired Up. In addition, he wrote the telefilms Banner Times, Past the Bleachers, and Under Wraps. Rhymer passed away in November 2012 during the production of Rio 2.
One of the major challenges in turning the brief book into a full-length feature was expanding its storyline and introducing new characters to accompany the central character on his journey.
“The story has a very strong beginning and ending, so we took those very powerful components and created this middle part that helped us really get attached to Ferdinand,” notes Anderson. “We were able to spend more time with him and experience his world as he grows up in a more contemporary, relatable way. We also had the freedom to introduce all these other colorful and memorable characters that weren’t in the book. However, they all also had to fit this world and echo the message and sensibilities of the piece.”
Saldanha and Forte both point out that the deeply layered messages of the property allowed them to expand the storyline in a logical fashion. “The more research we did, the more it became obvious to us that people can interpret the story in so many different ways,” notes Saldanha. “Our story has a deeper meaning in the difficult world we all live in today.”
As Forte explains, when you open up a small story, a lot of attention has to be paid to make sure the expanded journey of the hero and all the newly introduced sidekicks and other characters are just as satisfying and loveable as the main one.
“Everyone worked hard to make sure the movie as a whole would be as universal and timeless as the original story that inspired the project,” she notes. “I was very familiar with the book. It has such a simple and powerful message that is attractive for kids and adults. Of course, that message is just as resonant today as it was when the book was first published in the ’30s.”
“Carlos is an amazing storyteller and a very sensitive human being,” adds Davis. “There is so much heart in this movie. Kids can relate to the whole notion of having to leave home and going to a less protective and more competitive adult world. Ferdinand has a set of values and he adheres to them, although the world doesn’t understand him. Just like the classic animated movies, Ferdinand taps into the collective unconscious and expresses our fears, anxieties and our dreams. It makes you feel very deeply.”
The Trip to Spain
As both the book and the movie are set in colorful and historic places in Spain, Saldanha and a few of his colleagues visited the country to seek visual inspiration and authentic backdrops for their project. “We were inspired by the beauty of the landscapes and unique architecture of Spain,” says the director. “The color palette of the movie has a lot of earth tones to it, and is very different from the tropical colors that we used in the Rio movies. We took in the magnificent architecture of some of the cities and traveled south to the lovely region of Andalusia.”
The mountain-top city of Ronda in Spain’s Malaga province inspired the location for the farm where Ferdinand finds happiness with the young girl Nina and her father. “We wanted the art to reflect the beauty of this world,” explains Saldanha. “We wanted the locations to express the possibilities of an animated movie, but also be truthful to the art, history and culture of Spain.”
The team retraced Ferdinand’s journey to Madrid, Seville and farmlands in the South of the country. “The old and the new co-exist beautifully here,” notes Saldanha. “There are old windmills and modern highways and these ancient white cities that offer a beautiful contrast to the modern elements of Spain. We visited the haciendas where they raise the cattle and took in every little detail, the vegetation, the colors, the small villages and the people. We also saw the windmills of La Mancha and the famous Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas in Madrid. All these locations help us create an authentic world for our characters.”