Friday, April 20, 2018

Knowing the given names of stray animals

I’ll tell you why I don’t like Ferdinand.

Actually, there are a number of reasons, but only one of them is distinctive enough to be worth writing about.

Okay, so the story starts on a bunch of young bulls growing up on a Spanish ranch where they’re bred and trained to become bullfighting bulls. We see the expected spectrum of personality types among the kids, and the way those types have been established by their fathers – no bulls are born bad but they learn by modelling their parents’ behavior, yada yada yada. You get the drift.

One of these bulls is named Ferdinand, and as you might expect from the fish-out-of-water narratives that suffocate today’s animation landscape, he’s a lover not a fighter. He spends his time trying to cultivate flowers, presumably in the hope of becoming either a florist or a gardener, rather than dying in the ring like his father. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, the father has a pep talk with Ferdinand, who doesn’t want to follow his proscribed path, and says to his son, “You know, Ferd, I wish we lived in that type of world.” Those are, of course, his last words to young Ferd.

Because of Ferdinand’s, or Ferd’s, non-violent disposition, one day he sees an opportunity and he bolts from the ranch. Lost and alone, through rainstorms and the like (yes, this movie is as cliché as it sounds), he is discovered by a young girl, who takes him home to her bucolic farm to become her pet.

And she calls him Ferdinand. Or, more to the point, she knows that his name is Ferdinand.

Now, this is not some movie where animals and humans talk to each other. That almost never happens in animated movies that fancy themselves as being tethered to some version of reality. They’ll have a bunch of animals team up to drive a car – yes, that happens here, just as it did in Finding Dory and The Secret Lives of Pets – but they’ll almost never cross that sacred line of having the animals and humans communicate using a common spoken language. You might say that would actually be more realistic than animals who drive cars. But it’s a line most movies won’t cross.

Then how did she know his name is Ferdinand?

It didn’t occur to me at first, and I had to rewind on the seatback entertainment (watched this on the way back from Bali yesterday) to be sure it was not explained away somehow. But no indeed, there’s no explanation for how she knows his name. She just knows his name is Ferdinand. Or perhaps he just looks so much like a Ferdinand that the only name she can think to give him is Ferdinand.

I can certainly understand why they just avoided the whole problem of his name. If he’s called one thing on the ranch with the other young bulls, and another thing when the girl finds him, that would be too confusing for the little kids at whom this is aimed. But they could have figured out some way to incorporate it into the narrative, like that the young bulls wear dog collars with their names on them. (Of course, that would have its own problems – then Ferdinand is no longer a stray bull, but a bull with an actual name and contact information, leading to a moral responsibility by the girl and her father to return the bull to its rightful owner.)

But Ferdinand is clumsy enough overall that I think it just didn’t occur to the writers that the girl would not know this bull’s name. I mean, the movie is called Ferdinand, and this is Ferdinand. Plain as day, right?

Forehead slap.

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