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You ain’t seen nothing yeti – ‘Abominable’

October 1, 2019
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In the world of big-time cinematic animation, we tend to think of Pixar as the big artistic achiever and Walt Disney Animation as the song-and-dance populist, while both are adept at the unabashed tugging of heartstrings. And then you have DreamWorks Animation, the goofball cousin with a looser, slightly weirder sensibility, but with no less attention to the pushing of emotional buttons.

“Abominable” is the latest animated offering from DreamWorks, one that fits right in with that perceived dynamic. It isn’t as ambitious as a Pixar film, nor as slick as a Disney; instead, it’s silly and sincere in equal measure, a sweet and well-made 97-minutes of quality kiddie fare.

There’s a message, of course. There always is – in this case, it’s a fairly simple moral about family and friendship and moving forward. But the film is also interested in giving us juvenile (in a good way) humor and a handful of impressive set pieces … and writer/director (and animation vet) Jill Culton is here to make sure we get plenty of that too.

It’s the right choice.

Yi (Chloe Bennet, TV’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) is a teenager living in Shanghai. She lives in an apartment with her mother and grandmother; her father passed away some months ago. There are other kids in the building, including the basketball-obsessed youngster Peng (Albert Tsai, TV’s “9JKL”) and his older, status-driven cool kid cousin Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor, TV’s “Liv and Maddie”), but Yi’s a little bit of a loner. She’s working a bunch of part-time jobs in secret, in an effort to save up enough to take the cross-China trip she and her dad had planned.

But everything changes when the yeti shows up.

Specifically, a yeti that escaped a research facility operated by the zoologist Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson, “The Goldfinch”) and financed by the wealthy Mr. Burnish (Eddie Izzard, “The Flip Side”); Burnish encountered a yeti during his youthful explorer days, but was a laughingstock when he returned to tell his story. His aim is to reveal the existence of the yeti to the world after dealing with his research, so when the yeti escapes, Burnish devotes all of his resources to its capture.

But the creature winds up on the roof of Yi’s building, where she finds it and – after the usual getting to know you shenanigans – befriends it; she names it Everest after determining that that was where its home was. Her plan is to help him return home – a plan that is accelerated when Burnish security personnel show up. Peng and Jin are inadvertently pulled into the scheme.

What follows is a race across China, as Yi does everything in her power to help her new friend find his way home. And Everest does everything within HIS power … which includes a lot of low humming and magical connections to the natural world. Whether they’re on a cargo boat, a flatbed truck or gliding through the air on a giant dandelion (yes, really), it’s a constant struggle to stay one step ahead of Burnish and Dr. Zara, who grow ever more ruthless in their pursuit. And as Yi tries to get Everest home to his family, she’s reminded of how important her family is to her. Her dad may be gone, but he is always with her … and she has a lot of people who love her.

“Abominable” is as pure as the driven snow atop Everest’s home mountains. The relationship between Yi and Everest is lovely; her interactions with Peng and Jin are equally sweet. And the four of them together capture the distinct back-and-forth rhythms of childhood while leaving room for plenty of silliness – the dynamic between Peng and Everest is especially comic, leading to some of the movie’s best sight gags.

The energy of those relationships allows the narrative to be gently propulsive – constantly moving, but never overly frenetic. Even the big chase/escape scenes – of which there are several – are energetic without that sense of being frantic. It’s all very smooth, even as some kinetic (and visually stunning) moments are rendered. That’s something that should be noted: “Abominable” looks phenomenal. The aesthetic is vivid and eye-catching, packed with detail without being overly busy and brightly colored without being garish. It’s a light, pretty cartoon bauble.

The vocal cast is outstanding. Bennet is the perfect choice to lead this cast; she captures Yi’s sense of determination while also leaving room for her sadness to show through a bit. Trainor is good as well, although the highlight of his presence is the fact that he’s the grandson of the legendary Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa who scaled Everest alongside (and possibly ahead of) Sir Edmund Hilary. Tsai is just the right flavor of dorky. Izzard is a GREAT animated bad guy; as usual, he shines here. Ditto Paulson, who is as talented as anyone currently working in Hollywood.

“Abominable” isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s not trying to be. This movie isn’t about artistic achievement – it’s meant to entertain. It’s unapologetically a kids’ movie, content to cater to its target audience. Adults won’t be bored, but there’s far less of the winking and nodding that marks some animated fare. Simple rather than sophisticated, “Abominable” is a sweet and inoffensive time at the movies – not great, but good enough.

[3.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 01 October 2019 12:02

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