So, this link came across a listserv last week. I sort of slumped and sighed and grumbled about yet another perfectly perfect children's picture book getting turned into a glitzy-zitzy full-length feature film. I didn't click on it until I decided to feature The Story of Ferdinand on my library pages at school as last week's #tbt entry. In fact, let me find it on my shelf and reread it right now.
Ah, as I said, perfectly perfect.
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. Illustrated by Robert Lawson. 72 p. Viking/ Penguin Young Readers Group, 1936. 9780670674244. (Own copy)
We first meet Ferdinand as a very young bull among many in a field in Spain. All the other young bulls run and snort and butt their heads about. Already they hope to be chosen for the bullfights in Madrid. Not Ferdinand. He want's to sit under his favorite cork tree "just quietly" and smell the flowers.
Ironically, Ferdinand grew and grew and grew to magnificent proportions despite not running and snorting and butting his head about. When five men in funny hats came to look over the bulls for those bullfights in Madrid, all the other bulls ran about snorting and butting their heads about. Not Ferdinand. He moseyed over to his favorite spot under the cork tree and sat - on a bee! Ouch! Did that hurt! Ferdinand ran. Ferdinand snorted! Ferdinand butted his head about! He was the perfect bull to fight in Madrid!
And so they took Ferdinand away in a cart.
The illustrations are black and white, uncluttered and cartoonish, with little bits of humor planted here and there, such as wine corks growing as fruit in the cork tree under which Ferdinand likes to sit. My sons enjoyed many readings of the story.
It is indeed, a picture book for all ages. I read somewhere that while it did modestly well the first year of publication, its sales soon tripled and then sold over 3,000 copies per week with most of the sales attributed to adults buying the book for themselves. According to the Penguin website, the book was banned in Nazi Germany and in Spain. The Spanish Civil War broke out shortly after publication.
Shortly after then-President Bush declared the war on terror in 2001, I read a reference to the book somewhere as a good book to read during those anxious times and decided to read the book to all my students K - 8 without commentary. While all the students listened with rapt attention, and seemed to enjoy the book, only one astute sixth grader actually made the connection. His classmates all kind of stared for a second, then animated discussion ensued.
Disney animated Ferdinand and earned an Academy Award in 1938 in the animated short film category. They decided to add color, but the illustrations are basically Lawson's. The words are the same. Spanish music plays in the background, adding atmosphere, but the story is untouched. Here's a link. I don't know if this was the first picture book ever to be turned into a movie but I guess it was an early step on a slippery slope. Dr. Seuss had a couple of picture books turned movie in the early days that stayed true to the book. How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Horten Hatches the Egg come to mind. But all of them were short and stayed true to the words and length of the book.
Full-length motion picture? It took me years to get over the horror of The Polar Express being turned into a movie to watch it. It wasn't a bad movie. Same for The Lorax. I never did watch the Jim Carrey abominations of Seuss nor do I ever want to watch Where the Wild Things Are. I guess I'm a picture book purist. There's magic in a well-told story within a 32 page framework. It's quiet and intimate and perfect.
Now back to the new Ferdinand movie. So, yeah, it's cute. It's humorous. But it's not Ferdinand! It's frenetic. It's slick and glitzy. It's too bad.