Make Way for Ferdinand! Get the Inside Scoop on This Classic Book Turned Movie

Un-bull-ievable! After 82 years of gracing kids’ bookshelves, everyone’s favorite gentle giant is hitting Hollywood. 

The Movie

The classic 1936 children’s book is coming to life on the big screen! Ferdinand (voiced by John Cena) isn’t like the other bulls; he just wants to sit under the cork tree and smell the flowers. When bullfighters mistake him for a powerful beast and remove him from his family, he must find a way to get back. Unlike in the book, Ferdinand needs help from his new goat friend, Lupe, voiced by Kate McKinnon, and a trio of hedgehogs to return home. Rated PG, opens December 15, 106 minutes.

Q&A With Kate McKinnon, voice of Lupe

Parents: Did you read Ferdinand as a child?

McKinnon: It was one of my favorites. I remember the red cover and being taken back by its image. The juxtaposition of what Ferdinand looks like and what his passions are is so wildly different that it immediately endeared me to him. He’s this huge ostensibly vicious creature who just loves a little flower.

P: Lupe isn’t in the book. What’s she like?

M: She’s supposed to be a calming goat on the ranch that Ferdinand ends up in, but she’s so loud and joyous and wild that she actually makes a terrible calming goat. Her real passion is to be a bull coach, so she and Ferdinand become friends over the fact that they’re both not allowed to be who they truly are.

P: What’s your favorite part of the movie?

M: I just appreciate how sloppy this character is. Her stomach is like a little storage cubby for items she needs, so she eats things, pulls them back up, and eats them again later. Let’s be clear, kids should not swallow objects—not a can or a whistle or a boot!

P: So, you did a lot of fake vomiting?

M: Yep. Although the script didn’t say vomiting, it just said “regurgitation sound.” There’s always a lot of jumping, kicking, and making weird sounds in cartoon voiceover work, but I’ve never gagged quite as much as I did in this movie.

P: What will kids like most about Ferdinand?

M: The director Carlos Saldanha is a master at defining characters’ movements, and kids are going to freak out when they see how funny these characters are. Every bull and human has their own exaggerated style.

P: What will parents like most?

M: The jokes are hilarious. We improvised a bunch of lines. 

P: If you could create a dream character to voice, what would it look like?

M: Honestly, it would be Lupe! When I was told the idea of the character—an over-the-top gross goat—I thought, ‘Oh! I can do that in my sleep!’ I really connected with her. I don’t know what that says about me, but I couldn’t think of a more natural character to portray.

P: How can parents make reading books to their kids more engaging?

M: Do a little bit of a British accent for one character and a loud wacky voice for another. It’ll transport the listener to another place. And it doesn’t have to be perfect!

P: What’s the one takeaway you want everyone to get out of the movie?

M: You see a character who doesn’t fit into his culture but remains true to himself and ends up changing how others think. That’s how history is made and why it resonated with me as a kid. I never felt like I fit in, but Ferdinand shows that you shouldn’t bury the things you feel. You should celebrate them.

A few of Kate’s favorite things...

Kids’ movie:

Ratatouille. It has a similar theme to Ferdinand and a timeless, inspiring message that I’ve always been drawn to.

Kids’ book:

Anything Roald Dahl. I love The Witches.

Game to play on her phone:

Responding to text messages, which I sometimes could do a little quicker if you asked the people in my life. I’m a bad girl. 

Kids’ food she’s not ashamed to eat:

Spaghetti with tomato sauce. I still eat it. Just about every day. 

Last song she listened to:

Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony. I remember hearing it as a kid, so I Googled around and found it!

The Book

The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf, was the first children’s book to address gender nonconformity. It became an instant hit (eventually selling more copies than Gone With the Wind, which came out the same year!) and has been translated into more than 16 languages. Ages 3+, $18.

Fun Fact!

Why is the main character a bull? The author Munro Leaf thought too many children’s books had a dog or a horse as the main character, so he asked his illustrator friend Robert Lawson to draw a bull instead! 

3 Ways to Read It Better

1. Guess what will happen.

The page before the bullfight shows ladies with flowers in their hair; earlier, readers learn that Ferdinand loves flowers. Have your child predict what he’ll do once he’s in the ring.

2. Look at expressions.

Point out Ferdinand’s eyes. When he sits on the bee, they widen. Even the bee’s eyes say, “OMG! I’m about
to be smooshed by a bull!” 

3. Ask open questions.

In the story, Ferdinand likes to be on his own. Ask: Why do you think he likes to be by himself? What do you like to do alone? The more specific, the more they’ll connect with a character.

Source: Barbara Head, a youth librarian in Portland, Oregon.

Parents Magazine

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