Review by James Lindorf
Abominable is the second collaboration between DreamWorks Animation and Chinese production company Pearl Studio. Teenage Yi (Chloe Bennet, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) is struggling after the recent death of her father. She is headstrong and working multiple jobs to fund the dream trip her dad always said they would go on. When Yi encounters a young Yeti, it starts her and her friends, Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) and Peng (Albert Tsai), on a 2,000-mile journey to get him home. The foursome will have to stay one step ahead of Burnish (Eddie Izzard), a wealthy man intent on capturing a Yeti, and zoologist Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson) to help the yeti get home. On September 27th, Abominable will take audiences from the streets of Shanghai to the Himalayan Mountains.
Coming off of a 13-year break, Jill Culton (Open Season) is back to both write and direct. Making Abominable, the first female-led, major-studio animated film with a central female character. She took the lessons she learned at Pixar and put them all to good use here. Abominable is gorgeously animated, and contains several jokes for the parents, the one about the Tag Team song, “Whoomp! (There It Is)” being my personal favorite. She was able to give Pearl what they wanted in a Chinese-based story with a predominately Asian cast. DreamWorks may have a replacement for the popular How to Train Your Dragon series.
Abominable can be best described as an odd couple road trip meets action film. Yi, the depressed girl, Jin, the materialistic snob, Peng, the overly enthusiastic kid starved for attention, and Everest, a magical creature, are their own breakfast club. Out to ruin their weekend are Dr. Zara, Burnish, and his endless supply of money and goons. While Everest is cute, he lacks the universal appeal and charm of wordless character like Toothless. When it comes to human characters, there are just too many of them. There are great lessons about grief, compassion, and empowerment in the film. However, the number of characters, the screen time given to the bad guys, and the number of stops on the road trip mean that there isn’t enough time to become attached to the characters. Yi, Jin, and Peng are all likable enough and could become fan favorites if Abominable performs well enough to get a sequel.
Where the film excels is in its visualization of Everest’s magical powers. Whether it is rolling fields of yellow flowers or an avalanche of blueberries, they keep finding new ways to showcase his abilities. The visuals are at their peak during the group’s stop at the Leshan Giant Buddha statue. It is the most beautiful sequence in the film, as well as the emotional climax for Yi.
While watching Abominable, you can’t help but feel that someone told Culton they wanted the next How to Train your Dragon or Lilo and Stich instead of a genuinely new idea. The unique elements of the setting and lead character paired with a well-worn plot make for an uneven film. However, there are enough jokes and cute creature moments to keep children entertained for the 97-minute runtime, which is all some parents ask for. Whether or not Everest, Yi and the rest go on another adventure isn’t a forgone conclusion. With a little more attention to the script, DreamWorks could have a long-running franchise on their hands.
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