The idea of bigfoot and the yeti have become a strangely popular topic for animated pictures in recent years with two previous films, Warner Bros. “Smallfoot” and Laika’s “Missing Link”, focusing on the legendary creature. The latest picture to focus on the legend is DreamWorks second film of 2019, “Abominable”. Directed by noted animator and character consultant for numerous studios Jill Culton, “Abominable” arrives on the scene seeking help DreamWorks continue to be the biggest competitor against the Disney powerhouse, but the most obvious question is can it rise above the familiarity of its concept to make its own mark as a quality family adventure? Let’s see where this journey takes us. This is my review of “Abominable”.
“Abominable” focuses on a teenager named Yi (Chloe Bennet) who has lost her father and finds herself neglecting her mother and grandmother to earn money through day jobs with her heart set on a trip across China that her father sought to complete. Yi also continues her father’s passion for the violin, often playing the instrument in private. Yi meets a strange creature on the run from a business tycoon named Burnish (Eddie Izzard) and a zoologist named Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson) which she discovers to be a yeti. Yi dubs the creature Everest and seeks to return him to his home on the mountain of the same name. Joined by lifelong friend Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) and Jin’s cousin Peng (Albert Tsai) the three embark on a life-changing adventure to return Everest to his family before Burnish and his henchmen can capture and exploit the creature for personal gain.
I’ll start off by saying I genuinely enjoyed this movie. DreamWorks for me can be very hit or miss but in 2019 they’ve offered a pair of great films that both had me hooked from start to finish. While “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is the superior of the two offerings, “Abominable” earns its own praise by being a solid, family friendly adventure that offers more than enough to stand out in the oddly crowded subgenre of animation focusing on legendary big-footed beasts. “Abominable” brings to the table a charming story that focuses on Yi, a young teenager who is dealing with the loss of her father. Unlike many films the grief is more internal, hidden from the world and manifesting itself in Yi’s over correction and avoidance than her visible inability to cope. When she discovers Everest on her apartment roof, she finds an opportunity to seek the adventure she craves, opening her heart and mind to a world of possibilities and giving her a chance to come to peace with her loss at the same time.
While the subject matter might be handled with a little too much subtlety at times, “Abominable’s” core message about finding your way isn’t just about Everest getting home, it’s also about the characters finding inner peace and self realization. Yi is challenged to finally face her emotions over losing a loved one and the subtlety of her hurt is representative of how a lot of people her age deal with these setbacks, hiding things inside and seeming normal on the outside. Her sidekicks on the adventure, Jin and Peng, deal with their own insecurities but while Jin, who is closer to Yi’s age, comes face to face with his vanity Peng, who is much young and innocent, is more self-aware as a wanna-be basketball player who has a seemingly bottomless supply of hope. So, where does Everest, the yeti, play into this? Well Everest is closer to Peng in age and thus is more innocent but also vulnerable. Everest’s arrival and the subsequent adventure home provides a chance for closure and challenges the human charatcers to understand their own inner beauty and that special something they offer to the world whether it’s courage, hope, support, love or anything in between. Everest also serves as a not-so-subtle jab as humanity’s obsession with corrupting the hidden beauty of nature and the world itself and while that is certainly a theme, it’s not really the MAIN message of the movie.
“Abominable” is one of the most engaging animated features DreamWorks has produced in some time outside of the “How to Train Your Dragon” franchise. Chloe Bennet, Albert Tsai, Tenzing Norgay Trainor, Eddie Izzard, Sarah Paulson and others deliver awesome performances and voiceover work that bring their characters to life while the animation is astoundingly beautiful showing just how far DreamWorks has come in perfecting their art. The character designs are smooth, and Everest is just so damn adorable you can’t help but root for him all the way through the story. Where “Abominable” stumbles a bit though is in said story is handled. The pacing is fine and the adventure is gripping with awesome moments of inspiration mixed with levity and surprisingly mature dialogue in the script, but there’s a lot of filler and at times it does become clear that writer/director Jill Culton wasn’t always sure where to take the scene or the moment to make it stand out. Even then though the film deserves credit for never losing my attention even when it was abundantly clear the movie was simply trying to reach feature length.
Also it’s important to remember that this is a strangely overused idea for animation over the last two years which unfortunately works against “Abominable” as the idea of getting a mythical creature home isn’t exactly a fresh concept anymore. However it would be almost unfair to criticize this movie, which took years to produce, for not jumping on the concept fast enough. Even with the obvious cliches of it’s concept “Abominable” still turns in a charming and fun final result worth experiencing. However, the film can also be critiqued as playing it a bit safe. While it does tackle some powerful human emotions with subtlety, tact and grace it never goes full-in when exploring how these very human elements of grief and self-discovery can impact or change a person. As heartwarming as it is most of the time, “Abominable” can often feel like simply a good movie trying just hard enough that could have been better if it went just a little bit farther. There were several moments in the film where I felt it was was holding back or afraid to explore an idea to the fullest. But even while playing it safe “Abominable” to somehow create its own memorable identity. Also, in a pretty neat twist, “Abominable” manages to be entertaining when it tries TOO hard, something DreamWorks is often guilty of especially with its trademark “Shrek” franchise. Here though it’s sense of humor is more charming than annoying. One of the most hilarious running jokes is the appearance of a “Wooping” Snake which seems like a stupid attempt at humor at first but for one reason or another it works every time and kept me laughing throughout the whole film even when it felt like it should have gotten old.
“Abominable” might be on the back end of the odd big foot craze in animation, but when compared to the previous films it offers so much more than just the generic story about getting the legendary creature home. It’s better than “Smallfoot” but just inferior enough to “Missing Link” as that film went a little more all-in with its themes making it a solid if imperfect adaptation of the yeti legend to the screen. Even still, “Abominable” looks beautiful with great voiceover performances and a touching, well-paced and engaging story that makes it a worthy addition to DreamWorks’ filmography. What it lacks in originality it makes up for in substance, even if it settles for paying it more on the safe side than taking chances it clearly sought to explore. It has it’s problems, but I enjoyed it very much and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for an animated movie that’s not bad, not great, but just right in terms of escapist entertainment that tries just enough to explore the complexity of the human experience in a way that the young and young at heart can appreciate.