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'Ferdinand' reimagines a classic tale for contemporary audiences

'Ferdinand' reimagines a classic tale for contemporary audiences
Ferdinand in a scene from the animated movie "Ferdinand." (Twentieth Century Fox / Blue Sky Studios)

The book Franco couldn't brook is now a 3-D, computer-animated film, and that's no bull.

"The Story of Ferdinand," a gentle, slender kids' tome about a Spanish bull too peaceful to fight in the ring, was written by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson and originally published in 1936. Spain's Gen. Francisco Franco banned it during that nation's Civil War as pacifist propaganda; Adolf Hitler ordered it destroyed. Meanwhile, supporters such as Ernest Hemingway lauded it. And Leaf? He called it "Propaganda for laughter only."

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"Rio" and "Ice Age" director Carlos Saldanha acknowledges the book's nonviolent bent, but sees a different theme: "If you're at home with who you are, you find peace." His version of "Ferdinand," opening Dec. 15, is a colorful adventure story, as opposed to the quiet book.

John Cena voices the gentle bull who would rather smell flowers than fight in "Ferdinand." (20th Century Fox)

"I never pictured translating the visuals of the book into the movie. I wanted to create my own vision of Ferdinand," says the director.

The feature-length expansion required new characters, including sidekick Lupe, a wacky "comfort goat." Saldanha cast "Saturday Night Live" Emmy winner Kate McKinnon as Lupe and WWE star John Cena as Ferdinand:

"He's a massive guy! I don't want to upset this guy ever! But the way he looks you in the eye, you believe every word he's saying. And that's how I saw Ferdinand.

"Kate – she's such a natural comedian, an ad-libber. [She gave us] more material than we can ever use. Maybe we can make 'Ferdinand 2' just her."

This story is part of The Times' Holiday movie preview. See our complete coverage here.

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