No one likes a tattletale, but everyone likes a cattle tale: After years of bedtime story cameos in films like The Blind Side and Stepmom, the gentle, flower-sniffing Ferdinand is finally getting his own movie — and that’s no bull. Fox Animation Studios has acquired The Story of Ferdinand — the classic 1936 children’s book, by author Munro Leaf and illustrator Robert Lawson, about the pacifist bull who’d rather chill outdoors than thrill with matadors — and plans to adapt it as a CGI feature film. What’s more, we hear that Carlos Saldanha, a director on all three Ice Age movies and of the forthcoming Rio will be developing it to direct.
Ferdinand celebrates its diamond anniversary this year, and since 1936 has remained one of the best-selling children’s books of all time: It’s sold over 4 million copies in the U.S. alone, and millions more in the 36 countries in which it’s been published. After Sandra Bullock read the story to her sons in Blind Side, sales spiked even higher; according to Regina Hayes, president of Viking Children’s Books, some 100,000 copies were sold just on the strength of its cameo in that film alone.
While the deal with Fox represents the first feature-film adaptation, it’s not the first time Ferdinand has appeared on the big screen: Disney released it as an animated short in 1938, winning an Oscar in that category. (If you haven’t seen the short, drop everything and do so; it’s a classic and only seven minutes long.) As such, there’s more than a little irony to Ferdinand’s Disney pedigree: Martin Bright, who represents the estate of illustrator Robert Lawson, tells Vulture that unlike almost every other animated property in the Disney vault, the Burbank studio oddly failed to get a contract with Mssrs. Leaf and Lawson that went beyond its onetime use as a short film. Bright notes that after Ferdinand’s cameo in Disney’s The Blind Side, he received a rash of calls from producers and studios who were bullish on Ferdinand for a feature, but that he opted to make a deal with Fox Animation since they’d been interested even before Bullock’s onscreen reading.
That’s honorable, but we still have to imagine that someone in Disney’s legal department is having, you know, a cow.