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Ferdinand
  • Composed by John Powell
  • La-La Land / 2017 / 61m

The latest from Ice Age producers Blue Sky Studios, Ferdinand is based on a true story and follows a giant bull whose pacifism leads to him refusing to take part in bullfighting… until he is forced into the ring to fight the world’s greatest bullfighter in order to save his childhood pals from the slaughterhouse.  (The same story was turned into a seven-minute short Ferdinand the Bull by Walt Disney in 1938.)

John Powell loves working on animations and this is his eighth film for Blue Sky Studios (and they have only made twelve).  I think (and this opinion is hardly a rare one) that he tackles live action films very well and I (and this wish is also hardly a rare one) would love to see him work on more serious films more often, but having said that there is no doubt that he is also extremely well-suited to these films.  His busy scores for them tend to be infectiously cheerful, effervescently tuneful and downright fun.

John Powell

Ferdinand is no exception: from the opening moments it is just ridiculously entertaining.  “Bees and Bull” starts the album with a gorgeous Spanish guitar theme to begin with, before it gets more of a Hank Marvin sound for the final minute.  Then comes “Selection Process”, which starts off gently but then turns into the first action music of the score, the Powell trademarks with added flamenco flavour – and who could resist that?

The guitar which opens “Father and Son” is gorgeous and lilting – it’s a really lovely theme.  In “Finding Home”, there’s a delicate tenderness that takes over (either side of some more up-front material) which is impressive: and I love the way the score’s two main themes dance around each other near the end.  “A New Day” is playful, sprightly – never too big, but certainly full of life.  Even more charming is “Flower Festival”, which is – well, it’s as pretty as a piece of music called “Flower Festival” might be expected to be.  The delightful main theme – heard in a big blast from the whole orchestra for the first time, but it’s usually played by the flutes – is all over it.

After a softer interlude in “There’s Been a Mistake”, some energy returns to the score in “Lupe and Ferdinand”, with some romantic flavour now; the cue’s got Powell trademarks everywhere and it’s so charming and breezy.  The tuba being used to represent something big but graceful may not be the most original idea but it really works a treat.  This continues at the start of “Lipizzaners and Ferraris” before the score takes a rare darker turn and “Ferdinand and Nina” takes a while before it goes all warm and fuzzy again (which was always inevitable).

One of the cues that will get Powell fans really cheering is “The Bull Olympics” – some big, brassy action music, still with the flamenco colours – it’s just so great.  “Sunset in the Training Yard” sees the pace slow for a while, but it’s only temporary because “Escape from the Spa” ups the ante in dramatic style.  And that leads us to “Highway Chase” – yes, “Highway Chase”.  It’s vintage, classic Powell action music, with all the colour of his animated music added in.  Brilliant – and that’s only the start.  “From Train Station to Arena” continues the action and the music really starts to soar – and then we conclude with the mammoth 12-minute “Madrid Finale”.  Of course it cycles through the score’s main ideas – and there’s plenty of colourful action/adventure along the way.  (The brass writing that leads into the big flamenco explosion just under four minutes into the cue is really special – Powell is a top-drawer composer, he really is.)

One slight oddity to report: according to the Wikipedia page for the film at the time I’m writing these words, Powell incorporated the score for the old Disney short (composed by Albert Hay Malotte).  I presume this is not true – it does seem rather unlikely – and repeat it here only to cover myself in the event that it actually is.  But really, no bull, Ferdinand is such a fun score.  Furthermore, I am contractually obliged to point out that Ferdinand is worth two in the bush, so really – what are you waiting for?  It’s a little more laid-back than most of the composer’s animated scores but still so energetic and full of life, the hour-long album passes by in no time – and the inherent flair which comes from the Spanish touches is just delightful.

Rating: ****

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  1. J.B. (Reply) on Wednesday 17 January, 2018 at 00:39

    It’s a really charming score that mostly got overlooked due to The Last Jedi.