DIR: Jill Culton, Todd Wilderman • WRI: Jill Culton • DOP: Robert Edward Crawford • ED: Susan Fitzer • DES: Max Boas • PRO: Suzanne Buirgy, Peilin Chou, Dave Polsky • MUS: Rupert Gregson-Williams • CAST: Chloe Bennet, Albert Tsai, Tenzing Norgay Trainor
The past year of animation has seen the beloved genre soar to new heights. Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse reinvented the comic book genre in a way that die-hard fans had been dreaming of for decades. Dragon Ball: Super Broly reminded those who unfairly ignore the genre that its presence is stronger than ever. Toy Story 4, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and The Lego Movie2: The Second Part were worthy successors to their magical previous films. Love it or loathe it there is no denying that the technical achievements in The Lion King remake were some of the finest ever seen on screen.
There arguably hasn’t been a better time to be a kid obsessed with film. One of the weirder things to emerge from the current animation renaissance is that in the past 12 months there have been not one, not two but three animated features about a human befriending a large mythical creature. Towards the end of last year Channing Tatum and Zendaya, as Mechee no less, starred in Smallfoot as Yetis who befriend a little boy that gave James Corden an excuse to be childish. Fast forward to April of this year to the release of Missing Link. A film that saw hunter Hugh Jackman becomes best friends with a Sasquatch voiced by Zach Galifianakis. A film that if you were one of the hoards of people that skipped it you need to make amends for that now! Surely that was a simple coincidence, nothing more. Yet, somehow another film has entered the fold with an almost identical concept to the other two.
Abominable tells the story of a young girl called Yi (Chloe Bennet), who, like any other animated character, is coming to terms with her father’s death. Yi pushes her mother (Michelle Wong) and grandmother (Tsai Chin) away as she spends next to no time at home, choosing to take on any job she can in an attempt to have enough money to embark on an adventure. As fate would have it Yi doesn’t need money to go an adventure as a mythical creature stumbles into her life. Aided by her mischievous cousin Peng (Albert Tsai) and the school’s popular kid Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor), the trio embark on an adventure to bring Everest back to his home, which, yes, is obviously Mount Everest for those wondering.
Abominable ticks all the boxes in the “How to Make a DreamWorks Movie Manual”. The relationship between Yi and Everest is identical to Hiccups and Toothless from How To Train Your Dragon. Everest’s mission to return home is straight from 2015’s Home. Peng is, at first glance, an irritable little sidekick in the same vein as Donkey, Bob or any of the characters from Trolls. Eddie Izzard’s villain is an evil businessman who wants to capture Everest for financial gain. Hell, even the films ‘save the environment’ message was already done in Bee Movie. It’s a shame that the plot of the film is so formulaic considering that Abominable is the first film from DreamWorks new sub-studio Pearl. Despite Abominable being the same animated adventure you’ve seen a million times before there’s a charm to be found that makes this a worthwhile trip to the cinema for younger and older audiences.
Despite the generic feel of the movie, the characters elevate the material further than it should really go. Chloe Bennet gives an impressive lead performance as Yi. Bennet allows her character to be swept away by the fantasy elements of the story instead of making her character deny what’s going on around her. Yi is intelligent, funny and relatable, a perfect role model for any young kids watching. Jin’s storyline of going from a kid obsessed with social-status to mini warrior is one of the film’s funnier plots. One sequence involving Yi is a wonderful homage to First Blood.
Peng is slightly annoying as the younger sidekick, yet he never has enough to do or say to derail the story. Eddie Izzard and Sarah Paulson make a terrific double act as the villainous Burnish and his assistant Dr. Zara. Izzard and Paulson bounce off each other with ease, their running joke involving a whooping snake leaves an impression. While Everest isn’t as fleshed out as Toothless, an over-reliance on burping and farting is grating, the young Yeti is able to gain a relationship with the audience with his big blue eyes.
Everest is basically a younger Chewbacca, sure the older version is easier to spend time with, but we still want what’s best for the kid. Everest also has magic powers that could end the film inside the opening ten minutes, as this is a kid’s film fighting to hit the ninety-minute mark this option is not once discussed.
As it is written and directed by Jill Culton it’s clear that she wanted to put as much care as possible into the film. The Chinese setting of the film must be applauded, children of every background should be allowed to have their world represented on screen. Unlike Big Hero 6, which presented an American/Japanese hybrid city, Abominable is not afraid to delve into Asian culture. The animation of the locations is gorgeous, whether it’s the city lights or the fields of green, the Asian landscape is portrayed in a way that western filmmakers tend to get wrong. Culton put a female lead into her film without ever thinking that she must comment on it. It’s amazing that we finally live in a world where female lead characters don’t have to justify that they are as good as male leads.
Yi is an interesting character from start to finish, her love of violin leads to heart-warming moments. Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score is up there with his work on Hacksaw Ridge and Wonder Woman; it’s a shame that in a key emotional scene the film plays Coldplay instead of a Williams’ piece. With a story that we’ve seen time and time again, it’s a testament to the talents of Jill Culton and her crew that Abominable is a film brimming with positivity.
Abominable is fun for all the family. While there is little in terms of originality to be found, it doesn’t matter when the film is this charming. Considering the last two big animated features were the dreary Playmobil Movie and the shambles that was Ugly Dolls, it’s a relief to see that Abominable is fit to be viewed alongside some of the genre’s biggest hits of the year. Just please, let’s give the mythical creature friendship a break until at least 2022. Wait, what? Onward is out next year?
Liam De Brún
G (see IFCO for details)
Abominable is released 11th October 2019