The heartwarming ‘Abominable’ has moments of beautiful animation but a too-familiar story.
Kernel Rating: 3.5 out of 5
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 97 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 8+. The China-set story follows a teenage girl who feels disconnected from her mother and grandmother after her father’s recent death from cancer; her memories of her father are integrated in the story. A Yeti monster from the Everest is a major character in the story, and we see the creature threatened, caged, and abused by humans; children are also threatened by those same adults. A journey across China involves some frightening sequences, including chases on a mountain and characters being thrown or falling off the edge, as well as characters flying through the air and traipsing through a desert. In another sequence, blueberries are magically made gigantic and attack the kids. Some jokes about a character’s many girlfriends, some flirting, and some body-related and bathroom humor (burps and farts).
By Roxana Hadadi
The latest from DreamWorks Animation, “Abominable” brings to mind previous franchises from the studio like “Kung Fu Panda” and “How to Train Your Dragon,” with detailed world-building and gorgeous animation. But unlike those films, the story is a little lacking, with a protagonist whose journey is so focused on other characters that we learn little about her own life.
“Abominable” begins in Shanghai, China, an urbane and sophisticated city where teenage Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennet) lives with her mother and grandmother (Yi’s moniker for her grandma, “Nai Nai,” will bring to mind this summer’s exceptional “The Farewell”). In their community-minded apartment building, Yi is always running around, doing odd jobs for people—and never spending time with her family. Still grieving her father’s death from cancer and grappling with the reality that they’ll never take a long-planned trip across China together, Yi has cut herself off from those who love her.
Each night, Yi sneaks out of her bedroom and climbs up to the roof of the apartment building, where she hides out, playing violin and thinking of her father. But that private enclave is trespassed upon one night by a big, fanged, white-furred creature—a Yeti, who gobbles up Nai Nai’s pork buns. When Yi helps the Yeti hide from the henchmen of the villainous Burnish Industries, who threaten him with shock prods and tranquilizers, the two form a fast friendship.
Where did the Yeti come from? When Yi intuits that he was taken from Mount Everest, thousands of miles away, she’s swept up in his escape. Along with friends Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor), with whom she used to be close, and his younger cousin Peng (Albert Tsai), who is always asking her to play basketball, Yi helps guide the Yeti back home. And the whole way, they’re trailed by the explorer Burnish (voiced by Eddie Izzard), who holds a decades-long grudge against the Yeti, and his company’s head zoologist Dr. Zara (voiced by Sarah Paulson), who wants to capture the Yeti for her own purposes.
“Abominable” takes care to depict Chinese culture and Chinese and Himalayan geography, and the movie integrates familial tradition and music in a thoughtful and intentional way. The movie is specific in those presentations but also universal in its messaging about familial love and loss, and scenes with Yi remembering her father, playing violin to honor him, and talking to Jin and Peng about their shared childhoods are emotionally meaningful. What is lacking in the film, though, is an exploration of who Yi is without her grief regarding her father. Much of her character is driven by his loss, and the film does not spend as much time developing her own interests or identity outside of his presence.
Still, Bennet gives an energetic vocal performance, and as Jin and Peng, Trainor and Tsai add snarkiness and mischief, respectively. And Everest the Yeti is profoundly adorable; the film presents him like an overgrown puppy with an understanding of human language and emotion, and his friendship with Peng is quite cute. The two roughhouse and make gross jokes, but when Yeti begins to show his magical ability, the film takes care to show that he’s a very different creature from what they expect. His supernatural powers are used too often later in the film to solve narrative inconsistencies, but they also include some of the film’s most beautiful animation sequences: bursting blueberries, blooming flowers, a glowing willow tree. Those are the most striking images “Abominable” has to offer.
Some of the plot elements of “Abominable” overlap a bit too much with Laika films “Kubo and the Two Strings” and “Missing Link,” which both considered Asian mythology and folkloric creatures. But those films put a more-mature spin on the material, while “Abominable” skews younger and is a bit lighter. The goofiness of Everest goes a long way, helping “Abominable” transcend its familiarity into a viewing experience that is summarily heartwarming, if still a bit forgettable.
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