There are times, especially with animated works, where I might be tempted to give points to a film with a strong visual sense, even if the story is a bit lacking. And while the new Dreamworks Animation movie Abominable certainly has a flair for color and light (most of which is because of the film’s setting in China, whose cities and mountainous landscapes are re-created beautifully), the rest of the film is so emotionally vapid, predictable and unoriginal that I had a tough time caring about anything I was seeing.
Abominable is the story of two worlds colliding. The film opens with some sort of wild creature escaping from a scientific research facility and ending up on the roof of an apartment building, where the teenage Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennet) lives with her mother (Michelle Wong) and grandmother (Tsai Chin), both of whom are concerned about her being out all the time and not spending enough time with the family. It turns out that Yi is secretly working a series of odd jobs to make money to take a special trip, feeling distanced from her family after her beloved father died a year earlier. Even when she’s home, she spends a great deal of time on the roof of her building, where she runs into the aforementioned creature that turns out to be a Yeti. When she finally figures out that’s what he is, she names him Everest (Joseph Izzo, mostly doing grunts, groans and other guttural noises), after the place he comes from and where she plans to return him.
The giant-sized creature is on the run from the scientists who originally held him, including zoologist Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson), and the team’s wealthy financier, the elderly Burnish (Eddie Izzard, who is at least allowed to riff a little, giving the film a few brief glimpses of genuine humor). Burnish had a run-in with a Yeti in his younger years, but without proof, he was laughed out of the scientific community, so he’s doubly determined to capture and unveil an actual Yeti for the world to see.
Once Yi decides to spearhead a journey to get Everest back home, her two closest friends and neighbors, Peng (a younger boy, who seems a little touched, voiced by Albert Tsai) and his older cousin and one of the most popular boys in her school, Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor). The three head out on their quest to essentially get E.T. home (who said that?), and discover along the way that Everest has a special, perhaps even magical, connection to nature that aides them in making the journey quicker and getting away from those pursuing them. Writer/director Jill Culton (Open Season) and co-director Todd Wilderman are certainly capable enough with their voice actors, although if I never hear another kid actor playing a rambunctious little scamp of a child again, I’ll be a happy human. Yi’s struggles with getting through the pain of losing her father is the most interesting thing about her, and at least gave me someone to root for during Abominable. But honestly, I didn’t care about the fates of any of the other characters, each of whom have their own tortured pasts, so much so that it’s almost humorous.
Most of the visual innovation is reserved for Everest and his special abilities, and so I found myself eagerly awaiting his next magic trick without really paying as much attention to what went on in between the light shows. I also liked the way the film uses violin music, not only as score but as a way to measure Yi’s healing. She used to play, encouraged by her father, but hasn’t done so since he died. But she picks it up again during her journey to inspire her young Yeti friend.
But too much of the film is formulaic, borrowing ideas from other films that might not have been worth borrowing in the first place. There’s a sequence involving a field of expanding/exploding blueberries that seems juvenile and pointless, and only serves to make us think of a better movie involving a candy connoisseur. There’s nothing offensively wrong with Abominable beyond it not trying very hard to be unique. It feels safe to a fault and disinterested in its own outcome, which is too bad because the setting and subject matter could have resulted in something special.
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