Abominable (2019)

Find your way home.

Over the past twelve months, we’ve seen an avalanche of kids films that center on the mythical figure of the Abominable Snowman. From Warner Bros.’ Smallfoot (2018), which spoke about blind faith, and featured a bunch of singing, dancing mountain monsters, to Laika’s Missing Link (2019), where the titular Sasquatch embarked on an expansive journey to the Himalayas to meet his cousins, Yetis seem to be all the rage at the moment.

Abominable, the latest CGI family flick to hit multiplexes, is ‘yeti’ another sasquatch inspired adventure, one that treads a familiar wayfaring path — basically, it follows a group of Chinese children who travel to exotic locations as they usher a magical creature back to its home atop Mount Everest. Co-produced by America’s DreamWorks Animation and China’s Pearl Studio, Abominable has clearly been built to appeal to both the US market and the Middle Kingdom, the film showcasing (and paying respect to) the country of China whilst dealing with universal themes of family and friendship, as well as those of grief and loss.

Busy, busy, busy!

The film opens with a nifty Doom-type first-person sequence that sees our Yeti hero — who’s later named Everest — (voiced by Joseph Izzo) break out of the holding facility where he’s being detained, escaping from a batty former explorer named Burnish (Eddie Izzard), who wants to possess everything that’s unique and beautiful, and his zoologist, Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson), a self-declared animal lover who walks around housing a rare kind of big-eared rodent.

We then meet Shanghai teen Yi (voiced by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Chloe Bennet), a solitary girl trying to keep busy after the death of her father. You see, instead of turning to her mom (Michelle Wong) and grandmother (Tsai Chin) for comfort, Yi spends her free time working odd jobs, hoping to save up enough money to visit a bunch of famous landmarks that her father was planning to take her to see. Living in the same apartment building is Yi’s old childhood friend Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor), a vain phone-obsessed pretty boy who’s too busy trying to become Insta-famous to notice that she’s hurting, and his basketball-loving little cousin Peng (Albert Tsai).

Never stop looking up.

Wounded and afraid, Everest eventually makes his way to the top of Yi’s building where she stumbles on the beast while playing her violin (as a kind of emotional release), a passion she used to share with her dad. Although initially afraid of one another, Yi and the plushy-looking critter soon form a bond, the pair uniting over music and ‘Nai Nai’s’ dumplings, Yi quickly learning that the fuzzy white pup longs to return to its home on Mount Everest (hence the name Everest). Perused by Burnish and his team (the pint-sized tycoon hopes to recapture the yeti to unveil him to the world at large), Everest is located when Jin sees the monster on the roof and notifies the authorities. Attempting to flee his hunters, Everest escapes, taking Yi with him, along with Jin and Peng who get caught up in the action, the foursome setting off on an expedition across the continent to return the fur-covered animal to its home in the Himalayas.

Written and directed by Jill Culton — who penned the story for Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. (2001) before helming 2006’s Open Season — and co-director Todd Wilderman, Abominable is simply breathtaking, the production design by Max Boas and VFX work some of the best I’ve seen this year. Throughout this voyage, we visit a number of different Far East travelogue hot spots, such as the Yangtze, the Gobi Desert and the Leshan Giant Buddha statue in Sichuan, which was erected during the Tang dynasty, each new setting brimming with vivid color and lush detail; the latter features the film’s most powerful moment, and a rather touching use of Coldplay’s colossal hit ‘Fix You.’

Lord of the Strings

Moreover, filmmaker Culton instils her playful abominable snowman with a special ability (similar to that of Steven Spielberg’s E.T., who was able to bring a bunch of flowers back to life), the yeti capable of manipulating its natural surroundings, a knack that brings about a number of remarkable sequences, some involving expanding blueberries, giant floating dandelions, and a colossal, highly detailed golden tsunami of canola flowers.

In terms of Abominable’s messages, they’re pretty stock standard — you know, follow your passions, look after the environment, spend more time with those who love you (friends and family) and less time on social media/ smartphones — the film also managing to tackle the mourning process in a manner that’s suitable for its target demographic (mainly pre-teens). Additionally, the flick is a huge step forward for onscreen representation — the character designs are distinctly Asian-looking, while the film does a good job in showing us the daily customs of a Chinese family without ever relying on exaggerated stereotypes.

There’s snow place like home.

The voice work by the diverse cast is also solid with Chloe Bennet instating life into our relatable protagonist Yi, a tom-boyish teen weighed down by a deep sense of pain and anguish. Another highlight is Tsai Chin, Casino Royale (2006), who voices Yi’s nan, a diminutive granny known for her mouth-watering baos, popping up in random spots to dish out well-meaning criticism to her ‘busy’ granddaughter. The standout, however, is Sarah Paulson, Glass (2019), who portrays the ginger-haired scientist Dr. Zara, a character that winds up having a more significant part to play than what’s initially set up. With that said, though, everyone is outshone by the fictitious Whooping Snake, an uncommon breed of reptile who steal the entire movie with a hilarious running gag — trust me, the kids will love ‘em!

Advertised with the tag ‘From the studio that brought you How to Train Your Dragon,’ it’s clear that DreamWorks is trying to recapture some of the magic of that wildly successful trilogy, which told the heartwarming tale of a young boy and his fire-breathing pet. While they don’t necessarily get there with Abominable, this is still a charming enough coming-of-age story about a young girl and her magical monster friend, and another solid selection for this upcoming school holiday season.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Abominable is released through Universal Pictures Australia