2019 | rated PG | directed by Jill Culton | voices of Chloe Bennett, Sarah Paulson, Eddie Izzard | 1 hr 37 mins |
2019 brought us 3 family films about mythical missing links as if there was a big audience appetite for this. We got Abominable, about the Yeti, Smallfoot about Bigfoot and Missing Link, which cleverly brought both myths together. Missing Link is the best of the lot, a terrific movie that made my Top 10 of the Year and naturally was a huge bomb underpromoted by the studio. I planned to use this review to continue to sing the praises of Missing Link, which never got a full review, but as it turns out Dreamworks’ Abominable was also poorly promoted. Though it’s advertising invited a cold bland visuals and consisted of it’s one wacky scene where giant blueberries attack, it’s actually a rich, entertaining, true to form Speilbergian girl-meets-creature movie that wears its heart on it’s sleeve.
Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennett) lives in a small apartment in China with her mom and grandma, constantly keeping busy with odd jobs and favors until one day she finds a large white furry Yeti, that escaped from a lab, on her roof. Yi and two friends quest across the China countryside to take Everest, as they’ve named him, back to his home on Mount Everest, hotly pursued by the zoologist (Sarah Paulson), wealthy creature collector (Eddie Izzard) and their consortium of tranq rifle armed agents.
You’ve seen this movie before, many times. It’s not just E.T. it’s all of the 80s family creature features that emulated it, it’s Mac and Me, Super 8, Okja and in a version, How to Train Your Dragon. But with rich animation that puts us in the streets of a China metropolis and a Himalayan mountainside, director Jill Culton is able to build a solid movie out of these used parts that works. By execution alone it might be the best movie Dreamworks has put out outside of the How to Train Your Dragon series. If you told me that this movie uses the Coldplay song “Fix You” or has a Tag Team “Whoop there it is” joke in it, anybody would roll their eyes. But the placement of the song and how well it marries with the visuals just works here and the joke is so well set up that it almost cycles from lame to retro. By laying a solid story foundation, putting the stakes high and exploring Yi as a character, this movie makes things work in context that on paper wouldn’t.
Everest, the Yeti in this movie looks is a big-eyed, gap toothed floppy thing that looks ridiculous. He’s not cute at all. He looks like he’s made of felt, like the puppet effect of a live action movie, and he also has powers – because why not. It’s kind of unclear what his powers are. He can interact with electricity, make things bigger and bonds those powers to Ti who can then then also manifest things out of the elements with her violin Kubo and the Two Strings style.
I took off as many mental points as I could for unoriginality but Abominable is too effective in with it’s emotional moments (right up to the end of the credits) to get cynical with. It feels genuinely heartfelt where so many other Dreamworks family films feel machine-built by committee. It juggles a story of parental loss without falling into melodrama and the outcast kid in school without falling into tropes. If you’ve had your fill of movies where kids bong with creatures, Abominable will seem like a choir. But for a child that wasn’t raised on them or an adult nostalgic for this kind of movie, Culton’s film scratches that itch.