Kids’ movies are getting kudos for glance-and-you’ll-miss-them nods to the LGBT community, but a new animated feature could present us with our first queer cartoon protagonist: Ferdinand the Bull.
This Christmas, 20th Century Fox is releasing Ferdinand, a feature-length animated adaptation of The Story of Ferdinand, the beloved children’s book written by Munro Leaf in 1936.
It’s the tale of a gentle Spanish bull who would rather sniff daisies than fight in the ring. And though it was initially banned in several countries as pacifist propaganda, The Story of Ferdinand eventually became a worldwideclassic.
In more recent years, it’s also been a go-to for teachers and parents looking for LGBT-friendly kids’ lit. And no wonder: Leaf took one of the most virile, aggressive animals in nature and made him a passive, loving, almost effeminate creature.
“Ferdinand takes the stand all gay kids eventually have to take: ‘This is who I am and I will not apologize.’” writes culture critic Tony Bravo. “[He’s] gone on to become something of a pacifist hero for his refusal to fight, but I think he’s better suited to his role as gay icon: I for one am always inclined to think of that beautiful bull when I stop and smell the flowers.”
The fact that Ferdinand was an anthropomorphized bull and not a human provided handy camouflage for embracing gender-nonconformity.
“Ferdinand’s story may resonate with boys who also dislike sporty, often violent heteronormative activities,” without directly addressing the issue, writes Ilana Masad in The Guardian. “’Bachelor types’ often pop up in furry forms.”
In 1939, Disney released an animated short, Ferdinand the Bull, that only bolstered his transgressive cred.
Though it’s mostly forgotten, it’s one of the first instances where a queer-coded Disney character wasn’t depicted as evil.
“The bull is drawn with long eyelashes and lots of effeminate characteristics, but the cartoon doesn’t really judge him as being scary,” explains Sean Griffin in Tinker Belles and Evil Queens. “It’s not necessarily gay, but it’s definitely queer.”
John Cena plays the title role in Ferdinand, which also features voice work from out actors Kate McKinnon and Raúl Esparza. Obviously producers are adding new elements to the story, but will it keep his queerness intact—or perhaps even make it overt? Or will this bachelor bull be given a cow belle as a love interest?
We’ll have to wait till December 15, when Ferdinand hits theaters, to find out.