Not every legend is a tall tale.
Smallfoot is not what I expected from the Warner Animation Group, the people behind 2016’s zany Storks, their latest, a computer-animated Disney-esque musical, one with an overt question-everything message that urges kids to be more curious about the world around them. Turning the Bigfoot myth on its head, the film is supposedly based on a paperback titled Yeti Tracks, written by Sergio Pablos — the guy behind Illumination Entertainment’s Despicable Me series — a book that’s so hard to find (well, at least online), it’d probably be easier to track down a real-life Sasquatch.
The story takes place high atop the Himalayas, in a bustling Yeti village above the clouds, where the hairy, no-nosed inhabitants resemble a cross between a Wookie and the Grinch. There we meet Migo (Channing Tatum), son of resident gong ringer Dorgle (Danny DeVito), whose job it is to shoot himself via catapult and wake the ‘sun’ each and every morning, which the yetis believe is a humongous glowing snail that lights up the sky. Just like every other furball in the busy community, Migo is happy to go about his daily business and do what he’s told, adhering to a bunch of ‘commandments’ written in stone, worn around the neck of a Moses-type elder known as the Stonekeeper (Common), who, along with his jerkish son Thorp (Jimmy Tatro), enforces the rules with an iron fist. You see, obeying the godly laws is basically a way of life for these abominable snowmen, most working hard to ensure that their society stays alive, such as making ice orbs to cool down the woolly mammoths whose backs their township is believed to be built upon.
Hoping to inherit the all-important task from his father — who’d grown shorter from launching himself headfirst into the gong for so many years — Migo, one day, decides to have a couple of practice runs. But, when he completely misses the target, crash-landing over the village wall, Migo comes face-to-face with a mythical ‘smallfoot,’ or human, the discovery contradicting all he’s ever known. When he informs the community of his controversial findings, however, they don’t take it too well, the Stonekeeper labeling it as ‘fake news’ before banishing Tatum’s furry protagonist from their cozy settlement for disturbing the status quo.
Ousted from the commune, Migo is eventually approached by the Stonekeeper’s freethinking daughter Meechee (Zendaya) and her crazy conspiracy theory cohorts, Gwangi (Los Angeles Laker LeBron James), Kolka (Gina Rodriguez), and Fleem (Ely Henry), who’d long been suspicious of life below the vapor. Together, the team — dubbing themselves the S.E.S. (Smallfoot Evidentiary Society) — decide to help Migo confirm his sighting of the fabled smallfoot. After being lowered below the clouds, Migo wanders into a Nepalese village, where he bumps into Percy Patterson (James Corden), a nature T.V. show host who’s fallen on hard times, and his producer Brenda (Yara Shahidi), the animal-expert seizing the encounter as a way to boost his flailing ego, hoping to capture footage of the monster then upload it online. Even though they can’t understand one other’s words — yeti-speak sounds like a series of growls to human ears, whilst our language comes off as high-pitched gibberish — the pair manage to communicate, going back up the mountain together for mutual gain; Migo with proof of his findings, and Percy, to record what he sees to attain internet stardom. Alas, confronted with concrete evidence of a smallfoot’s existence, the well-intentioned Stonekeeper lets Migo in on some hard truths about their past, this newfound information forcing our hero to decide whether he should keep quiet about his discovery or expose the town’s long-buried secrets.
Playfully directed by Karey Kirkpatrick, Over The Hedge (2006), and newcomer Jason Reisig, Smallfoot is a good conversation starter, encouraging its young audience to ask burning questions — i.e. where do society’s rules come from and why should we follow them? Penned by filmmaker Kirkpatrick, Clare Sera, Blended (2014), and writing-producing partners Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, Cats and Dogs (2001), the script shrewdly comments on the dangers of blind faith in controlled media, religion and governing bodies, and how this can lead to ignorance, hatred, prejudice, and violence.
Although these are hefty themes to feature prominently in a children’s film, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t fun to be had, or that youngsters can’t simply just sit back, relax and be entertained without really understanding the bigger massages. For one, the visuals are cute, cuddly and easy to digest, the film sporting a number of snowy vistas bathed in whites, greys, blues and violets, which contrast nicely against the luminescent colors of the Nepal nightlights; not to mention, a lot of effort must’ve gone into animating those hundreds and thousands of yeti hairs. Moreover, the picture is loaded with fun sight gags, amusing Looney Tunes-type physical comedy (a wacky rope-bridge sequence comes to mind), and a handful of uniquely different musical numbers, written by Kirkpatrick and his brother, Wayne.
Speaking of which, of the tunes, highlights include a catchy karaoke rendition of Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’ re-titled ‘Percy’s Pressure,’ recorded by James Corden, Peter Rabbit (2018), and a no-nonsense rap track performed by Common, Suicide Squad (2016), named ‘Let It Lie,’ detailing the yeti’s grim history with the humans, and why they’ve chosen to remain ignorant of one another. Channing Tatum, 21 Jump Street (2012), delivers an ‘Everything is Awesome’ type opener ‘Perfection,’ while Zendaya, The Greatest Showman (2017), gives her vocal chops a workout in ‘Wonderful Life,’ performed by her scientifically-minded/ love-interest character, Meechee.
In short, it’s easy to recommend Smallfoot, not only because of its bright, fuzzy imagery, boisterous energy and spirited voice work, but because it’s rare to see a kids film these days (outside of Disney and Pixar anyway) that offers this much food for thought and leaves a cool enough impression. Amidst the avalanche of picks this school holiday season, I’d say Smallfoot comes off looking rather grand.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Mr. Movie