Score Reviews‎ > ‎

Ferdinand by John Powell (Review)

posted Dec 5, 2017, 3:27 PM by Kaya Savas

While he’s much more selective about the work he does these days, John Powell is still at the top of the list when it comes to the best musical storytellers working today. Ferdinand sees John reuniting with director Carlos Saldanha who has developed quite the lasting collaboration with John ever since Ice Age 2: The Meltdown. After Ice Age 2, John composed Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs, Rio, Rio 2 and now Ferdinand for Carlos. With this being the only score from Powell this year, he came into the project fresh and delivered an extremely wonderful experience that feels rather personal and quite character-focused despite being a movie aimed at the kiddos.

John identifies as a pacifist, and being a pacifist is actually a big part of why he abandoned live-action filmmaking for the longest time. While he seems to be embracing it again with the likes of Jason Bourne and Solo, animation is where John feels at home. And what’s better than getting to score a film about pacifism. Our titular character is indeed a pacifist. Ferdinand wants nothing more than to spend his days smelling flowers, he’s not like the rest of the bulls despite being the biggest and strongest. So when he’s accidentally stung by a bee at the flower festival and shows his displays of strength, he is mistakenly whisked away to Madrid to take part in the bull fights. Ferdinand refuses to fight and must find his way back home. That’s the core of the story, and it’s strange to describe it this way but the score almost feels like an animated character study.

The story of Ferdinand takes place in Spain, so you know you’re going to get that amazing Spanish flavor in the music that John does so well. Expect that amazing brass and acoustic guitar throughout, in fact 99% of the score was recorded live and it makes a difference. But this is so much more than “Spanish music”. The central theme, which is used very heavily, is our window into Ferdinand and that is where the heart of the film is. The central theme is playful and full of life. We also have a theme for Nina and “home”. Tracks 3 and 4 plant the seed for what our idea of “home” is for Ferdinand and we immediately as an audience react and are invested. Of course then the narrative must take us away from home so that we can get back to it at the end. Once Ferdinand is taken away, the score embraces the fun and light-hearted tone of the film. All of the cooky farm animals that Ferdinand meets are represented with the tone of the score, and Powell infuses some of that quirkiness in there without it ever feeling childish. Once we embark into act 3 we are treated to some exceptional scoring that accompanies Ferdinand’s escape back home. The final track which is our resolution is a beautiful 12-minute end to the journey. And once we hear that theme reprised at the end, it allows the emotions to rush in to wrap up everything perfectly.

The movie does include a few songs, two of which were written for the film. The song “Home” by Nick Jonas and “Watch Me” also by Nick Jonas are original songs. There is a soundtrack album EP for the tiny handful of songs that appear in the film, but this is really a score-dominant film. John also produced the film version of “Home”, which is on the EP. The EP can be found digitally, but you’ll want to seek out the score from La-La Land Records featuring some great album art direction from Dan Goldwasser and a 1+ hour running time presentation.

Ferdinand comes at a great time to close out the year with a fun and heartwarming adventure. John Powell brings his usual excellence to the project and this score seems so in-tune with the character and emotions that it doesn’t need to be as big and bold as something like How To Train Your Dragon to achieve that perfect balance of personality and heart. There is an intimate personal nature to this score. There is an underlaying fragility to the entire thing that makes Ferdinand so accessible. The score is full of life and energy, and it never goes overboard with anything. Powell is aided by his usual collaborators like Batu Sener, Anthony Willis and Paul Mounsey who added additional music and arrangements. Sener also co-produced the score with Powell. The cinematic landscape is always brighter with John's music, and Ferdinand is a pure heartwarming delight from start to finish.