Abominable (Photo: Universal)
★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Jill Culton
STARS Chloe Bennet, Sarah Paulson
The ads for the animated feature Abominable trumpet that it’s from “the studio that brought you How to Train Your Dragon,” but it doesn’t take a genius to make that connection. Everest, the Yeti at the center of this new film, is basically Toothless reconfigured: silent, sympathetic, and perpetually eager to please. But while the movie is as affable as its central creature, it lacks the invention and emotional reach that fired up the Dragon series. It’s an entertaining kid flick but nothing more. In this case, that might be enough.
Everest is the name that’s given to the baby Yeti by Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennet), a teenage girl who discovers the critter hiding out on the rooftop of the Shanghai apartment she shares with her mother (Michelle Wong) and grandmother (Tsai Chin). It turns out that Everest has escaped from a facility owned by a wealthy animal collector named Burnish (Eddie Izzard) and overseen by the zoologist Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson), and his only desire is to return to his home in the Himalayas. Yi makes it her mission to reunite Everest with his family, and she’s joined in her adventure by the self-absorbed Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) and the rambunctious Peng (Albert Tsai).
Abominable is certainly preferable to Smallfoot, last year’s animated offering about a friendly Yeti. (The proximity of the release dates of these films brings to mind the 1998 clash between two similar toon flicks about insects, A Bug’s Life and Antz.) Smallfoot offered a small measure of subtext for the adults in its message about the need to reject “alternative facts” spouted by fear-mongering leaders, but it was otherwise hampered by mediocre music and uninspired animation. Conversely, Abominable benefits from a more interesting visual style, even if its storyline never breaks away from rigid formula.
Everest has far less purpose or personality than Toothless, and the creature’s mystical powers are never clearly defined. But the three kids at the center of the story are nicely defined and delineated, and in a movie aimed at children, that might be what matters the most.