Abominable is a kind-hearted family friendly fantasy adventure that offsets its cookie-cutter plotting with beautiful animation and playful humor.
Of the three animated yeti films to hit theaters in the past year, DreamWorks' Abominable might be both the simplest and sweetest. Whereas last year's Smallfoot and this spring's Missing Link (both of which involve yetis in some capacity) dealt with themes of classism and general prejudice, Abominable is a more straightforward parable about how emotional trauma can blind people to the (in this case, literal) magic and wonder of the world. And although the movie borrows liberally from older, classic titles (including DreamWorks' own animated filmography), its execution is satisfying enough to help make up for the predictability of the journey. Abominable is a kind-hearted family friendly fantasy adventure that offsets its cookie-cutter plotting with beautiful animation and playful humor.
Abominable features Agents of SHIELD's Chloe Bennet as the voice of Yi, a teenager who's understandably shocked when she discovers a yeti hiding on the roof of her apartment building in Shanghai one night. As she soon learns, the creature (whom Yi names Everest after the mountain and its home) is on the run from the British zoologist Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson) and her employer Burnish (Eddie Izzard), a wealthy and elderly man who's determined to prove to the world that yetis do, in fact, exist. So, after quickly becoming his friend, Yi sets out to return Everest to his family in the Himalayas, with a little aid from her neighbor Peng (Albert Tsai) and - begrudgingly - his cousin Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor). But can they get there before Dr. Zara and Burnish catch up to them?
The Abominable script by director Jill Culton (a Pixar alum who became the first female principal helmer on a big-budget computer animated feature when she made Open Season in 2006) lifts directly from E.T. in the early going, right down to Everest possessing fantastical powers that allow him to make flowers grow. There are even a few moments taken right out of DreamWorks' How to Train Your Dragon, especially during the scenes where Yi and Everest learn to communicate and interact with one another. Fortunately, once the pair's quest gets underway (with Peng and Jin in tow), Abominable settles comfortably into a rhythm of its own, and manages to conjure up some warm feelings without simply nodding to already famous and beloved films. In general, Culton does a nice job of balancing kid-friendly comedy (and, yes, a few sly jokes meant for adults) with more dramatic and poignant developments, as Abominable moves further and further along.
As mentioned, though, Abominable's visuals are where it really shines. The film's animation brings its Asian landscapes and natural landmarks to dazzling life through a blend of realism and impressionism, drawing on a wealthy array of colors (blue, purple, gold, and green are especially prominent) to serve up a feast for the eyes. Everest's abilities are similarly utilized to create some truly imaginative imagery, ranging in tone from a sequence where the yeti produces comically giant fruit to awe-inspiring scenes of Yi and her friends flying through the air by different enchanted means. The ethereal score by Rupert Greyson-Williams (Wonder Woman, Aquaman) compliments Abominable's CG images, especially as Yi puts her violin playing skills to use to foster a different sense of wonder. Even a sudden needle drop of a well-known 2000s pop song works oddly well.
By comparison, Abominable's characters are a lot like its story - familiar, but with enough fresh tweaks to avoid being otherwise forgettable. While the film deserves recognition for featuring a young woman of color as its protagonist, Yi is nevertheless an overall typical outsider with a tragic backstory (with her father having died prior to the start of the movie) who comes of age and finds some closure thanks to her newfound group of friends. Bennet, for her part, injects some additional personality into the character with her fine voice work, as do Tsai and Trainor as the energetic but lonely Peng and the appearance-obsessed Jin. Izzard and Paulson are equally spirited as the film's antagonists, and there ends up being more to the pair than meets the eye at first. It's too bad, then, that the ultimate threat in Abominable is rather basic.
Interestingly, when push comes to shove, the three animated yeti movies that've been released over the last twelve months are all quite different from one another. Abominable is perhaps the least narratively ambitious of the trio, but is more ground-breaking when it comes to representation, and makes for altogether gentle storytelling. It's also more derivative and less sophisticated than the recent offerings from animation giants like Disney and Pixar, yet the lovely animation alone is reason enough to give Abominable a look on the big screen. More than anything, it's just impressive that we've somehow ended up with not just one, but three yeti adventures that are each worthwhile in their own way.
Abominable is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 92 minutes long and is rated PG for some action and mild rude humor.
- Abominable (2019) release date: Sep 27, 2019