Monday, April 5, 2010

Ferdinand the Bull

This is a unique stretch of shorts as we finish up 1938. The last three shorts of that year are all different from the normal Disney fare, for varying reasons. The first of these is Ferdinand the Bull, the Academy Award winner that has rightfully been hailed as a Disney classic.

Ferdinand is unique in that it is not classified as a Silly Symphony or part of any other series. Instead, it gets its own title feature and treatment, signaling that this is a special short, not one of the regular fare. I don’t have any insight as to why Walt singled this one out, but it was a good decision.

The story, in case you have not seen it before, revolves around a young bull named Ferdinand, who prefers not to run around and butt heads like the other bulls. Instead, Ferdinand prefers to sit under a tree in the meadow and sniff flowers. Unfortunately for him, when the scouts for the bullfights come to the meadow, he gets stung by a bee, and rampages through the meadow.

Ferdinand gets dragged to the bullfights as the main attraction, unaware of what awaits him. When he gets into the ring, the bullfighter confronts him, but all Ferdinand wants to do is sit and sniff the flowers that were thrown into the arena beforehand. This, of course, drives the bullfighter to distraction, and the short ends with Ferdinand being dragged back to his tree in the meadow to live out the rest of his days.

Putting aside the moral implications of the story, which was not developed by Disney, the art of this short is undeniable. The quality of animation I is easily on par with Snow White. The movements of the bulls and the backdrops are exceptionally well done, not to mention the emotion.

As I’ve been watching the Disney shorts the last year and a half, I’ve always looked for single frames or shots that I would want as a cel. The final shots of Ferdinand sitting under the tree are perhaps the most amazing shots I have ever seen. The look of sheer bliss and happiness on his face is simply amazing. Think about it – through the face of a bull that is merely pencil and ink, the Disney animators manage to convey a look of pure emotion. It’s a remarkable feat.

I also love the narration in this short. It’s a trick that Disney has used before, such as in Little Hiawatha. Here, though, the narrator does all the voices in the short, which is a nice touch. It adds to the storytelling, and allows Ferdinand to be a pure character, serving as the vehicle for emotional release for the viewer.

It’s safe to say that I loved Ferdinand the Bull. It is everything I’m looking for in a Disney short – it offers fantastic art and storytelling, plus tugs at the heartstrings in one nice, neat little eight minute package.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.


  1. As a Disney fan, I always find this cartoon kind of frustrating. It's recognised as one of the all times classics, one of Disney's absolute best and yet I don't like it. There's a lot to like about the cartoon. As usual the animation is excellent and the backgrounds and colour are absolutely beautiful. It's also a story that promotes peace with no religious overtones - something I very much appreciate. However, I always find this cartoon pretty boring.

    One of the main reasons I dislike this short is the narration which I find boring and unnecessary. Little Hiawatha had some narration to introduce us to the character and again at the end to lead us out of the short which worked well and added some extra light humour. In Ferdinand it's non-stop. We can see what's going on and yet we have this constant prattling telling you what every character is doing and thinking. Once the men come to choose a bull the narration becomes tiring, patronising and dull.

    There's some interesting things about this cartoon worth noting. First, as you say, this cartoon does not belong to any particular series. It is included in Merritt and Kaufman's Silly Symphony book, because it started production as part of this series, but when it was released it was a 'special'. I'm not sure if this is because Walt felt it should be singled out as something special and unique or if it had something to do with the fact that the Silly series was coming to an end (I would guess the former).

    Another thing I learned from the book is that this cartoon was promoted with a song that is not heard in the film. I imagine this is a version of the same song (but I just did a quick search so it could be a different song for all I know!)

    The other thing worth noting are the caricatures of Disney animators to be found in this cartoon. They are identified here:

  2. The narration in Ferdinand is one of Disneys first star turns in stunt casting a celebrity voice I belive. That's Don Wilson who was already garnering fame as Jack Benny's announcer on radio.

    I've never been able to view the narration objectively from an animation standpoint, if only because I am such a fan of Benny and his whole cast and hearing that voice makes me just say to myself "Hey, that's Don Wilson!"


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