Ferdinand and Coco: setting standoff

Having just watched Ferdinand, I think it’s reasonably okay. It didn’t betray the book’s original message (unlike virtually every other Blue Sky Studios adaptation has), it actually only has ONE toilet humor joke in the entire thing (itself a huge step forward for a Blue Sky Studios movie) and it does make some use of the introduced cast as actual characters and not just comic relief props. Its undermined by clichés like Penny 345, the frankly annoying goat and dog and (spoilers) the “everyone lives” policy, erasing the drama of an earlier scene, but overall I’m very pleasantly surprised, and I think I might watch it again if I have the time.

Naturally, having come out in 2017 soon after Pixar’s newest masterpiece Coco, comparisons between the two movies have cropped up, the classical “dueling movies”/rip-off accusations that have gone all the way back when Dreamworks and Disney were competing (or earlier still, in the Don Bluth era). Both movies are only tangentially related: other than taking place in the modern day in hispanophone country, there’s not a lot of narrative similarities between either. Miguel’s an aspiring artist and his journey is about learning to appreciate his family to the point where his art is secondary; Ferdinand simply struggles to be a pacifist in a world that wants him to be violent, and eventually manages to inspire everyone else to follow his example. Coco has central antagonists; Ferdinand has the entire world be an antagonist. Coco has a minimalist cast, Ferdinand makes use of all of its characters, and so forth.

One thing that I think is worth comparing, however, is how both movies deal with their cultural setting. This alone is probably the one thing where both works can be directly compared and contrasted, and thus act as genuine foils to each other.

Coco’s entire purpose is to embrace Mexican culture, not only being to Día de Muertos what [insert Christmas movie] is to Christmas, but having gone to meticulous detail on everything from Mexican history, music, even the mannerisms Mexican grannies have. Its protagonist is a Mexican boy, every character is a Mexican person or the memory-generated undead of what was once a Mexican person. Coco truly lives and breathes the culture is it trying to honour, to the point that it is one of the highest grossing films in Mexico, in spite of the dread of its production history.

Ferdinand, on the other hand feels very dettached from Spannish culture. Its relevant cast are all domestic or rural animals, most of which not even being voiced by hispanic actors (one of the hedgehogs aside). In fact, actors and accents seem pretty mixed in this movie, with most human characters having either an hispanic VA or putting on a Spannish accent, while the few outright sympathetic human characters have a more american accent.

Being animals and everything, the protagonists are already inherently disconnected from Spannish culture. There is a rural flower festival, and its fairly realistic, but that’s the extent of Spain as a cultural identity: the rest takes place on more modernised setting of Madrid, and naturally none of the non-human protagonists (who are on the run at this point) have any particular reason to care, rendering it to a setting that could very well be anywhere.

There is one aspect of Spannish culture that does have prime focus on the movie, however: bullfighting.

Indeed, the whole movie is a critique on how barbaric and pointless this sport is; not only does it cause the death of animals for sport, it also breeds toxic masculinity in both the bulls and the matador. The bulls are pretty much the standard jock team, only with the incentive of being even more violent, repressed and hostile to positive emotions because their lives are on the line. The matador is spectacularly true to life pastiche of Spannish bravado and maschism, much in the way Ernesto de la Crúz embodies Mexico’s own actually, though the effect is undermine by him being skinny and a tad overflamboyant.

Perhaps more poignantly, bullfighting is treated as a system that indoctrinates its victims into hatred, only to lead to their deaths. Pointless deaths that they were trying to escape from.

Naturally, pacifism wins over bullfighting, and its victims live. Most importantly, the toxic masculinity upheld by it is proven to be foolish and cowardly before actual bravery in the form of abstention from violence.

So, to summarise, the only aspects of Spannish culture shown on film are the more chavinistic, unacceptable and barbaric ones.

Thus, Ferdinand is the anti-Coco. If Coco was about celebrating Mexican culture and inspiring pride on it, Ferdinand shows the flaws of Spannish culture and how they should be fixed rather than idolised. It is critical piece, not an embracing one.

There’s a lot to be said about the ramifications of this. For one, I am happy: I’m all for taking animal abuse and toxic masculinity down a peg. But I can see why this inspired so much criticism in Spannish audiences, telling them that the only thing of note in their culture is the less savoury parts.