Chris Knight: It quickly evolves into your standard quest/chase/escape story, with the usual save-the-planet subplot, but enlivened by some very clever gags
Yetis are rare, shy, solitary creatures – except in the world of film, where their numbers are snowballing. In just the last two years, we’ve seen the stop-motion Missing Link, the computer-animated Smallfoot, and a Québec production called Mission Yeti.
Abominable, from writer/director Jill Culton, is a charming addition, carving out its own place in the burgeoning genre. For one thing, this Yeti – nicknamed Everest by the plucky young woman who finds him hiding out on the roof of her apartment building in Shanghai – looks more like a bear than the traditional man-in-a-fur-suit style of Sasquatch. And any fear factor is reduced by his charming underbite, blue eyes and a Troll-doll haircut. Also, he sounds like a Wookiee.
Everest has escaped from a research institution, with a bad guy (Eddie Izzard) and his chief scientist (Sarah Paulson) in pursuit. When Yi (Chloe Bennet) realizes this, she makes it her mission to get Everest back to the Himalayas. Her cousins, Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) and young Peng (Albert Tsai), tag along for the journey.
It quickly evolves into your standard quest/chase/escape story, with the usual save-the-planet subplot, but enlivened by some very clever gags; kids will love the running joke about the rare “whooping snakes.” There’s also some beautiful music – Yi is a violin prodigy; Coldplay chips in with a new recording of “Fix You”; and Everest can produce a basso hum that not only harmonizes with Yi’s strings, but produces magical effects in local plant life.
Abominable is the first co-production between DreamWorks Animation and the Shanghai-based Pearl Studio, which helps explain the Asian setting. But the film makes little fuss about its Asian-American voice actors, although I’m here to tell you that Trainor is the grandson of Tenzing Norgay, first to the top of Everest with Edmund Hillary. Also, Abominable has cemented the knowledge, delivered in The Farewell, that “Nai Nai” means grandmother in Mandarin – and what a great comic character she is, voiced by Tsai Chin.
It’s not a bad reflection on the state of the art that it’s growing increasingly difficult to create truly eye-popping animation; after How to Train Your Dragon, Coco, Kubo and the Two Strings and others, it can feel like we’ve seen it all. Abominable doesn’t really push the envelope in this respect, but neither does it feel second-rate. If you told yourself you were only going to see one Yeti movie this year, and you’ve filled your quota, why not break the rules and give this one a chance?