In a completely unexpected turn in the animation world, the latest work from Karey Kirkpatrick (Over the Hedge, and a credited screenwriter on Chicken Run) and co-director Jason Reisig seems to be a film that dares its audience to question its religious beliefs, whatever they may be. Smallfoot is the story of a Yeti named Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum), who lives as part of a larger Yeti society in the Himalayas, on the top of a mountain so high that clouds separate the peak from the prying eyes of any human below. In fact, the Yetis’ contact with humans is so infrequent, their belief system dictates that the existence of the “smallfoot” is purely a myth.
At the core of Smallfoot is the idea of why certain belief systems are put into place and how a small group of rebellious Yetis seek to understand why they are being lied to about so many parts of their very daily existence. This sets up Migo as the Yeti who asks too many questions, especially after he accidentally get catapulted beyond the boundaries of his home and runs into Percy (James Corden), a reality TV show nature host desperate for a ratings booster. The two come face to face after Percy’s plane crashes near the Yeti village, and although they only glimpse each other, it’s enough to send Migo back home with stories that seem in direct contradiction with the teachings of his people’s all-knowing Stonekeeper (Common), who literally wears small stone tablets all over his body, each one inscribed with a valuable “truth” about the world that no Yeti is allowed to question or defy. But when Migo does continue to question the stones, he is banished from the village, setting him on a quest to prove what he saw and be allowed to return.
Smallfoot also features the voice talent of Danny DeVito as Migo’s father, whose job is to bang a large gong with his head every morning to summon the sun—another myth explained by the stones and called into question when the dad misses the gong one morning and the sun still rises. By now, I’m guessing most of you know that Zendaya is Meechee, but what you might not know is that she is both the daughter of the Stone keeper and the leader of the SES (Smallfoot Evidentiary Society), which not only believes that the Smallfoot exist but they help Migo prove it. Gina Rodriguez and LeBron James play the other members of the society, who sneak down to a nearby human town to find Percy and bring him back to their village. There are some fun jokes about the two species not speaking each others’ languages and attempting a rough form of communication.
Oh, and did I mention that Smallfoot is a musical? I probably didn’t because the songs are so generic and forgettable that I almost forgot they were a part of this. But if you’re hankering to hear Tatum or Zendaya sing or Common (Oscar. Winner. Common.) rap a foreboding tune about why the messages of the stones are important and why some of the lies they tell are necessary, well, you’ve come to the right ‘toon.
There’s nothing inherently wrong about the movie. It’s a bit splashy and in your face with its humor and performances, and there’s something unexpectedly subversive about its messages. I’m genuinely curious how that will fly with parents and children. Most of the voice actors are fun and chipper, but it feels like a work that’s spending too much effort pandering to younger audience members. The ideas about ratings-driven TV and generating views online already feel dated, and an hour after I saw the film, I was having trouble remembering what exactly it was about. If you’re looking for a movie in which to drop the kids off while you go see something good, this is probably a safe bet. But don’t be surprised if they come out of it no longer believing in God. Fair warning.
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