Movie review: Abominable
Dreamworks animators substitute a yeti for Lassie and E.T. in a story of finding home that feels far too familiar, and serves up a central character that looks and feels factory-made.
Featuring the voices of Chloe Bennet, Tenzing Norgay Trainor, Albert Tsai, Eddie Izzard, Sarah Paulson, Tsai Chin, Michelle Wong
Directed by: Jill Culton
Running time: 1hr 37 mins
#TIFF19, Opens wide September 27, 2019
By Katherine Monk
Have animators finally hit Wile E. Coyote’s brick wall? Are they running fast and furious into what looks like a train tunnel, only to smash their cabbage into cement? I’d say yes, because after watching Abominable, it was hard to overlook the obvious similarities to other movies.
Set in modern China, Abominable tells the story of Yi (Chloe Bennet), a young violinist who lost her father and now finds it difficult to relate to the world around her. The only time she’s happy is when she stands on the rooftop and plays the song that always made her feel better. Yet, one day while serenading the songbirds, she discovers a giant white creature hiding behind the clotheslines.
Have animators finally hit Wile E. Coyote’s brick wall? Are they running fast and furious into what looks like a train tunnel, only to smash their cabbage into cement?
The poor thing is being chased by helicopters and armed men, but Yi takes pity on the hunted beast, earns his trust and soon ventures on a voyage to bring him all the way home — back to an icy place high on the Himalayan plateau.
It’s a quest film, and with the addition of Yi’s friends Jin and Peng, it’s a buddy story, to boot. This much, we expect from an animated kids film, and Dreamworks Animation and Pearl Studio (aka Oriental Dreamworks), make all the expected bits and pieces look high-end and seamlessly pretty.
The panoramas of urban life are delivered in three dazzling dimensions, and every bloom and blade of the natural landscape is rendered with an eye to make it look magical. Yet, the yeti — the giant white fur-ball the kids dub Everest — feels entirely artificial.
There’s something about the character design chosen by director and writer Jill Culton that doesn’t really serve the story. They’ve made the young yeti into a cross between a slobbering St. Bernard, an albino pug, and polyvinyl chew toy. Its face looks factory made, and every time it vocalizes, it sounds like someone strangling Chewbacca — or playing a didjeridoo.
There’s something about the character design chosen by director and writer Jill Culton that doesn’t really serve the story. They’ve made the young yeti into a cross between a slobbering St. Bernard, an albino pug, and polyvinyl chew toy.
I could handle that. The yeti’s magical ability to manipulate nature is where I ran into my biggest problems with Abominable. When Yi plays her violin, it inspires the Yeti to make guttural harmonies, which transforms the world around them.
It’s a sweet idea, but I’ve seen it before — almost in the exact same way — in movies such as Kubo and the Two Strings and the recent Coco, both of which relied on enchanted string instruments to tell the story.
Abominable didn’t really need this extra helping of fairy dust to make its point. A trek to China’s central tourist sights was an easy sell for an international audience, and the story of a fantastic beast looking to get home with the help of a young girl had plenty of dramatic potential — I mean, she’s 16, there’s a lot the filmmakers could have played with as far as coming-of-age themes and imagery.
All this film had to do was carve out the snow around the characters and keep us engaged without gratuitous grabs at our feelings. Certainly, there was enough eye candy up there for the duration, but after a while, I got sick of the sweetness. It was all too familiar, all too pat, and a smidgen too pandering to embrace.
Maybe it was the scene with flowers and shooting stars scored to Cold Play’s Fix You that made me itchy, or maybe it was the lame attempt at one-liners and tween sarcasm that left a stale taste, but Abominable failed to strike a single magical chord — despite its constant pounding on the keys.
As a visual spectacle through an Asian landscape, the movie satisfies all expectations. But it’s not a memorable kids movie. It feels like a Chinese knockoff of something original, repackaged and marketed to a global demographic.
THE EX-PRESS, September 28, 2019