Director: Jill Culton
Writer: Jill Culton
Cast: Chloe Bennet, Albert Tsai, Tenzing Norgay Trainor, Eddie Izzard, Sarah Paulson, Tsai Chin, Michelle Wong
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Rated PG | Minutes: 97 Minutes
Release Date: September 27, 2019
The DreamWorks Animation and Pearl Studios’ animated feature Abominable may play it too safe and not take any kind of risk as it treads some familiar ground, but it still has as much heart and emotional weight as some of the other releases from its rivals.
Still, there is no denying that it is beautifully animated as it makes great use of a wide range of colors and light tones. Blend that with soaring music, and Abominable is something anyone of any age can fully enjoy from start to finish. My review below.
Set in Hong Kong, Yi (Chloe Bennett) is a young girl who is always on the move. Going from one job to another — whether it is walking the dogs, taking out the trash, clipping a dog’s nails, or fixing the computer — she is constantly at work, saving up for a big trip to travel across Asia.
However, this creates a distance between herself and her mother (Michelle Wong) and grandmother (Tsai Chin), both of whom wonder what has happened to her since her father passed. Still unable to mourn her loss, Yi finds some peace on the roof of her apartment, where she discovers a Yeti. After befriending it, she is determined to bring it home to Mount Everest, at any cost.
As Yi is about to embark on this trip, a wealthy man named Mr. Burnish (Eddie Izzard) and his zoologist Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson) are looking to retrieve their lost specimen so they can show it off to the world. With the help of her friends, the conceited and narcissistic Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) and the energetic and optimistic Peng (Albert Tsai) they will bring the Yeti, who they name Everest, home, while also discovering a little bit more about themselves.
It’s easy to see how Abominable may draw from other films like Up or even Lilo and Stitch, but it is a great story about female empowerment and is a gentle reminder about the power of family and friends, and to never give up on your dreams. See, Yi prides herself on being a loner, especially after the death of her father, the person that she was closest to. Her only connection to him is his violin, which he would play whenever she was sad or hurt. Naturally, she is just as talented with the violin as he was. This really shows whenever the camera focuses on her when she plays. Just like the characters, the audience can get swept up in the moment she plays and gets lost in the music as the camera circles around her as she hits all the right notes. It’s a wonderful display of animation, camera work, and music.
However, since his passing, she hardly plays it for it is too much of a reminder of him. She even goes as far as lying to her mother that she sold it. But she finds a new reason to pick it up when she befriends Everest. So whenever she does play, we see herself finally open up and be vulnerable. That in no way implies that she is weak, but it allows her to finally mourn. In a way, this is so much more than returning a new friend home and reuniting it with its family, it is about knowing more about yourself, finding that nothing is more important than family, and the strength one has to carry on after a tragedy.
While Yi and Everest are the beating heart of this film, there are other underlining factors that help keep the audience fully engaged. Most notable the themes of self-confidence and family. What’s more, the film prominently features Asian characters in an Asian setting but has them be a part of a universal story. Yi, Jin, and Peng, are all different types of the loneliness a kid may experience during stages of their lives. Yi feels alone due to her distancing herself after her father’s death; Jin is an atypical narcissist who gets empty validation through likes on social media; and Peng is the youngest and often overlooked because he is just a kid.
What’s more, it is a film that features a predominantly Asian voice cast, with the characters living in Hong Kong and journeying through iconic Asian landmarks like the Leshan Giant Buddha in the southern part of Sichuan province in China, the breathtaking Yellow Mountains, the beautiful Yangtze River, and harsh Gobi Desert. It’s great to see that there is more representation out there for all films, as it now allows certain members of the audience to see themselves in the characters they see on screen.
While it’s great to see that sort of representation on screen, it almost falls flat because Abominable never really addresses or explains the cultural significance of these landmarks to the audience. It does, however, make a note of telling us that there is an emotional resonance to these specific locations, which then allows the audience to connect with Yi.
Additionally, the hammy one-dimensional villains seem to undercut that emotion. Sure their mission, as nefarious as it is, only adds to the urgency and keeps our protagonists moving forward. But there is really nothing more to it than that, other than them participating in silly antics like finding a lost snake that goes “Whoop.” Even then, Everest never gets overwhelmed by its own comedic bits. There is nothing overly grotesque like fart jokes or body shaming, nor any other hurtful insults for a quick laugh. Everything here is earned.
Director Jill Culton gives the right amount of heart and humor in Abominable. And so what it lacks in originality and risk, it makes up for in its voice work, chemistry, animation and music. And really, that’s all anyone could ever ask for.