Smallfoot (2018) Review
NOT EVERY LEGEND IS A TALL TALE
In today’s cinematic world, animated features have become commonplace, with some of the major studios (and a few smaller ones) releases one or two titles a year; garnishing opportunity to tell colorful kid-friendly tales as well as to cash on the box office market of children’s entertainment. While Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, and Illumination Entertainment are the more prominent / juggernaut animation studios (that are currently out there), Warner Animation Group (WAG), the feature animation division of Warner Bros. Animation (as well as a subdivision of Warner Bros. Pictures), is quickly on the rise. Established back in January 2013, Warner Animation Group has become famously for The LEGO Movie back, which garnished huge critical and commercial acclaim back when it was released in 2014. Since then, the studio has built a franchise around The LEGO Movie, with releasing the two spin-off features (The LEGO Batman Movie and The LEGO Ninjago Movie) in 2017 as well as releasing a sequel feature (The LEGO Movie: The Second Part) being released in 2019. As WAG moved forward with their LEGO movie franchise, the studio has also continued to create other animated features, with the film titled Storks, which was released back in 2016. Now, the Warner Animation Group and directors Karey Kirkpatrick and Jason Resig releases the second standalone feature for the studio with the movie Smallfoot. Does this second non-LEGO movie animated movie strike a chord with its targeted audience or is it simply a bland and boring cartoon film?
High atop a large mountain (of which is upper half is shrouded in mist), a society of yetis make their home there, going about their daily routines by following commandments set in stone, interpreted by their leader, Stonekeeper (Common).One yeti in particular, Migo (Channing Tatum), is ready to take his place in the community, learning from his father, Dorgie (Danny DeVito), on how to bang the village’s gong with his head to welcome the morning sun. One day, while Migo was out and about, he comes across a plane crash, coming into contact with a human (or as they yeti call them a “smallfoot”). Offering some helping guidance from the S.E.S (Smallfoot Evidentiary Society), a band of misfits / outcast yetis, including the Stonekeeper’s daughter Meechee (Zendaya), Gwangi (LeBron James), Kolka (Gina Rodrigeuz), and Flem (Ely Henry), Migo ventures down the mountain into the world below where humans dwell. There, Migo meets Percy (James Corden), a nature T.V. show host who’s fallen on hard times, who now has a new story of a lifetime as he encounters proof of the elusive yeti’s monstrous existence. Trying to communicate and bridge worlds, Migo and Percy’s friendly connection is severed by the Stonekeeper, who’s well versed in human behavior, encouraging Migo to shun his curiosity and keep the two worlds separated to ensure their survival.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Of course, being a fan of animated movies, I personally love going to see all the various animated feature films that get release each year from the variety of studios out there. Much like a lot of films out there, some are good, some are bad, and some are in-between those two; getting lost within its own colorful and cartoon-ish world. Naturally, all the big animated studios continually churn out their one or two movies a year, dominating expectations for many (including myself) in what’s their next animation endeavor might be. Of course, like many out there, I was first introduced Warner Animation Group (WAG) when their first debut The LEGO Movie back in 2014. Being a first full-length feature film from the studio, it was a big hit, winning over critics and moviegoers everywhere, with me (personally) amongst them. I loved the movie…the story, the characters, the voice talents, the animation, the humor. I could literally go on and on about The LEGO Movie. Needless to say, that with the success of that movie, WAG began to build a franchise around LEGO. However, while I loved and enjoyed The LEGO Batman Movie (the first spin-off LEGO Movie), I thought that The LEGO Ninjago Movie (the second spin-off feature) was pretty meh and was too formulaic (as if they were just following the “checklist” of a LEGO Movie feature). Still, I am pretty excited to see The LEGO Movie: The Second Part (a released set for early 2019). Thus, besides those features, WAG’s 2016 Storks is the only non-LEGO Movie feature film that the studio has and do have to say that I liked it. Yes, it had some problems, but I did (overall) enjoyed it, finding Storks to be quite both endearing and hilarious throughout.
Naturally, this brings me back around to talking about Smallfoot, which is the second non-LEGO Movie from WAG. While I didn’t hear much internet buzz about this movie on the internet (I think I heard more about The LEGO Movie: The Second Part), the film’s various movie trailers were what really got me interested in Smallfoot. Of course, being an animated movie, I was almost fairly sure that I was gonna see this movie. Plus, I saw all the actors and actresses that were attached to this movie (i.e. doing voice work) and was immediately impressed by it, especially seeing the more “big ticketed” stars with Tatum, Corden, Common, and Zendaya. So, I decided to go see this movie when it came out during its opening weekend, but delayed doing my review for it for a few more prominent movies that had come out (i.e. Venom, Night School, and A Star is Born). However, I completed all of these movie reviews, so I can now “finally” do my review for Smallfoot? What did I think of WAG’s new non-LEGO Movie? Well, to be honest, I actually liked it…. probably more than some. While I did have a few problems with it, Smallfoot succeeds in being a fantastic kid’s animated feature, elevating the movie with its colorful animation, solid voice talents, and heartfelt story (with a thematic / meaningful message). It may not beat out a Disney / Pixar endeavor for “best animated movie of the year”, but Smallfoot comes entertainingly close second.
Smallfoot is directed by Karey Kirkpatrick, whose previous directorial works include Over the Hedge and Imagine That, and co-directed by Jason Resig, whose background knowledge as an animator on such animated endeavors like Trolls, Kung Fu Panda 3, and Over the Hedge. Together, both Kirkpatrick and Resig collaborate on crafting (and helming) Smallfoot to life and ultimately succeed in presenting a colorfully fun and entertaining animated movie. In truth, both directors hit all the right notes in making a kid’s cartoon feature with this movie (i.e. very vibrant and colorful characters, comedy relief, a concerning problem, musical numbers, etc.). However, while some might say that this is a way for the film to be derivate (in order to “cover all its bases”), I think it actually works in the movie’s favor, providing a lot of fun and subversive context to play around with, which makes Smallfoot quite fun to watch. In truth, Smallfoot doesn’t go “super dark” or mature within its narrative story, which does make the film a fine choice for a wide range of kids from the “juice box” crowd to young tweens and who knows…. maybe even for adults out there like me. Basically, it’s a perfectly lighthearted movie and both Kirkpatrick and Resig seem to assemble a fine feature for kids to partake in viewing and keeps mostly everything flowing the right way. Plus, I have to say that the film’s comedy bits are pretty funny as I caught myself laughing a lot throughout the movie.
The film’s script, which was based off of the kid’s book by “Yeti Tracks” by Sergio Pablos and penned by Kirkpatrick as well as John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, also provides an interesting take on a children’s animated film. While, of course, the movie does cater towards kids, the film’s narrative does toil around with some good and poignant thematic message that can be extrapolate to all viewers out there. What starts out as a classic man meets a legendary / mythical monster (i.e. the yeti), Smallfoot turns the table gives us (the viewers) an interesting question……whether or not the classic “ignorance is bliss” and / or if knowing the truth is much better than being a free person. To be honest, if one really thinks about it, those are some mature themes to talk about in a kid’s movie, but the film’s script handles these themes with kid’s gloves, but also the fundamental questions to be presented in a way that’s informative as well as adhering to Smallfoot’s story. Further examination into the movie’s script is that the narrative story also discusses of “bridging barriers” rather than hiding in isolation, which, of course, can also be relatively to anyone, especially in the today’s current world. Thus, despite being just an animated kids’ movie (at first glance), Smallfoot offers plenty of commentary message within its narrative that always meaningful for both kids and adults out there.
As an animated movie, Smallfoot’s technical filmmaking merits are pretty good, providing enough colorful display of dazzlement (and wonderment) to make the film quite enjoyable for both kids and adults. Animation-wise, the movie looks great, with its own visual flair that keeps everything looking nice and beautiful from the various yetis (including the overall layout of the different settings / environments and all the varying types characters of both humans and yetis). Thus, I really have to applaud the film’s animation team for rendering this movie in such a visual and colorful pleasing way, especially with its wide array of bright colors. Additionally, the film’s art direction (done by Devin Crane) also plays a part into that; providing some unique and creative looks for how this movie’s world will ultimately look like…cinematically speaking.
Also, while the film’s score, which was composed by Heitor Pereira, is rather good and does provide enough background musical nuances for a kid’s animated feature, the really winners (musically speaking) are the film’s songs that play throughout. This is especially noticeable with some of the songs that some of the film’s characters singing (i.e. “Perfection”, “Wonderful Life”, “Percy’s Pressure”, and “Let it Lie”) as well as a few ones that play in the background of the film, including CYN’s “Moment of Truth” and Niall Horan’s “Finally Free”. Collectively, these songs enhance the viewing experience of Smallfoot, creating lyrical melodies for the film’s various sequences. Plus, I have to admit that these songs are pretty good and already downloaded most of them via iTunes.
There were a few problems that I noticed while watching Smallfoot that, while not derailing the movie in anyway, where some noticeable that make it out of reach of animated feature greatness. Perhaps one of the main problems I had with the movie was the film’s pacing / structure. With a runtime of 1 hour and 36 minutes (i.e. 96 minutes), which is the somewhat average runtime for an animated feature, the film offers an overall “breezy” animated romp. The problem, however, is that the movie itself seems try to tackle a lot more than what it wants to present, with certain things (i.e. character / narrative threads), which does cause some pacing problems throughout. Thus, some moments in the film felt a bit underdeveloped and possibly could’ve been expanded upon.
In conjunction with that, the overall structure of Smallfoot is a bit off, with the first half of the feature is a menagerie of classic fanfare of nuances from a kid friendly animated feature, including catchy song (again, I love the songs in Smallfoot), introducing comedic characters, and some kid-ish zaniness. The flip side to that is that the second half of the feature seems a bit more focused and nails down the story and the actual conflict / plot; ensuing a bit more “gravitas” to the narrative. To be honest, the actual story’s plot doesn’t kick into the second half of the feature, with majority of first half being a bit more entertaining endeavor for kids. It just seems a bit unbalanced and a more thought-out narrative structure could’ve been implanted in either the storyboard concept or the screenplay. Also, the movie does have several (more than a kid’s movie ususally offers) of expositional scenes that are quickly presented with not much time to process them. This is especially noticeable in the film’s beginning sequences, which sort of rushes parts here and there (i.e. the yeti’s society and the wisdom of the stones, etc.). Thus, this contributes to the film’s pacing and overall “flow” of the movie, which is a bit unbalanced in another-wise solid kid’s animated feature.
Another problem I had with the movie was simple fact that Smallfoot’s story seemed vaguely familar to 2006’s animated feature Happy Feet. While it’s not exactly a “carbon copy” endeavor of the two, one can easily draw the comparison between the two, especially when examining the semi-religious aspects (i.e. the stones that the Stonekeeper interprets vs. the Great Guin in Happy Feet) that keeps the “calming peace” of the society, a cast of colorful characters (major and humorous side-kick characters) going against the leader of said society in venture to the world beyond, and the idea of somewhat “two worlds colliding. Its not necessarily a terrible thing or anything that’s a super “deal breaker”, but I felt the similarities between two were noticeable and maybe the film’s script could’ve done more different from Happy Feet’s narrative beats. That being said, of the two films, I actually prefer to watch Smallfoot than Happy Feet as Smallfoot seems more of a lighthearted / entertaining kid’s feature.
Much like a lot of other animated movies from major studios, Smallfoot enlists a lot of familiar / recognizable actors / actresses in voicing and bringing to life its wide array of colorful characters. While sometimes the notion of getting “big-ticketed” stars can somewhat backfire in a bland animated movie (i.e. DreamWorks’s Turbo), Smallfoot certainly does not, with the voice talents strengthen the overall likeability of both the film’s various characters and the film in general. At the head of the pack are the film’s main characters (Migo, Percy, the Stonekeeper, and Meechee), who are voiced by actor Channing Tatum, actor / current late-night show host James Corden, rapper / actor Common and actress / singer Zendaya. Tatum, known for his roles in 21 Jump Street, Foxcatcher, and White House Down, provides a child-like innocence to Migo that’s both amusing and likeably at the same time. The character itself is a one of a cliché of sorts (i.e. a wide-eyed youth that soon discovers that there’s more to the truth than what’s been told to him), but Tatum breathes a sort of warm and energetic into voicing Migo, making Smallfoot’s central protagonist an endearing character to watch from start to finish. However, perhaps the most surprising about Tatum being involved in Smallfoot is the fact that he can actually sing (no…I’m not joking) and he can actually sing quite well, most notably in the film’s opening song “Perfection”. As for Corden, known for his roles in Into the Woods, Peter Rabbit, and The Emoji Movie, is well-versed in voicework and provides that in Smallfoot; brining a wide variety of vocal emotions to the nervous / frenzy voice of Percy to life. Additionally, given the knowledge that he can sing, Corden’s song “Percy’s Pressure” (a fun take on Queen’s “Under Pressure”) is colorful and funny for him to perform. All in all, both Tatum and Corden, who are mostly the film’s main central focal points, nail their respective roles and certainly do speak (quite literally) life into both Migo and Percy.
Common, known for his musical career as a rapper as well his film roles in Megan Leavy, John Wick: Chapter 2, and Selma, does provide a solid effort in his role as the Stonekeeper, the leader / chief of the yetis as well as the “interpreter” for the various stones that make up their belief system. While he’s not really known for his acting, Common seems to be appearing in more and more films of late and certain does shine in Smallfoot, especially since he brings an “authoritative” tone with his voice as the Stonekeeper, which does help the character bring to life (matching perfectly to how his character physically looks like). Likewise, Zendaya, known for her roles in Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Greatest Showman, and K.C. Undercover, turns a fine vocal performance as Meechee, the Stonekeeper’s daughter and Migo’s love interest in the movie. Similar to Common, Zendaya is becoming more of a “up and comer” in Hollywood (even though she’s been acting for quite some time) and is getting more notoriety of late. Her voice work is a great fit for Meechee, which certainly does compliments Tatum’s Migo. Together, both Common and Zendaya are perfect fits in a movie like this, especially since that Smallfoot utilizes their musical talents by providing them for songs to sing (i.e. “Let it Lie” and “Wonderful Life”).
In more of supporting roles are the members of the S.E.S (Smallfoot Evidentiary Society), who believe in Migo’s finding of a “smallfoot” and help throughout his journey in the movie. The voice talents for these characters are also recognizable, with actress Gina Rodriguez (Annihilation and Deepwater Horizon) as the kind-hearted yeti Kolka, basketball sport star LeBron James (Trainwreck and The LeBrons) as the big yeti Gwangi, and actor Ely Henry (Some Freaks and Suburgatory) that do add some fun voiceover work to each of these characters. Thus, while these particular characters are, more or less, considered “side-kicks” and offer either comedic relief or small story narrative movement, their inclusion are elevated by the voices behind their yeti exterior.
The rest of the cast, including actor Danny DeVito (Batman Returns and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) as Migo’s father Dorgie, actress Yara Shahidi (Black-ish and Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia) as Percy’s assistant Brenda, actor Jimmy Tatro (American Vandal and 22 Jump Street) as Meechee’ s brother / the Stonekeeper’s son Thorp, actor Justin Roiland (Fish Hooks and Rick and Morty) as the nervous and overactive yeti Garry, actress Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond and The Middle) as the bear named Mamma Bear, and actor Jack Quaid (The Hunger Games and Rampage) as the unnamed pilot who Migo first encounters, are minor supporting characters that are scattered throughout Smallfoot’s runtime. Some have more screen-time than others, but all do offer effective voiceover work in the small respective roles.
The worlds of yetis and humans collide and discovering the not every legend is a “tall tale” in the animated movie Smallfoot. Directors Karey Kirkpatrick and Jason Resig latest film sees WAG’s second non-LEGO Movie in a dazzling light with its story that holds a bit deeper meaning that most children’s animated movies have to offer, while still indulging itself in a kid-friendly film environment. While the movie does falter slightly in its pacing and narrative structure, the film has plenty of harmless animated fun for kids to like; finding Smallfoot to be a solid endeavor with its fantastic voice cast, beautiful animation, catchy musical songs, amusing comedic antics, and thought-provoking concepts. Personally, I really liked this movie. While there were a few problems with it, the movie itself was quite enjoyable and entertaining, especially coming from a somewhat WAG, who’s mostly known for their LEGO Movies. Thus, my recommendation for Smallfoot is definitely a “highly recommended” as there’s plenty for the younger viewers to like about and even something there for older / adult viewers out there. While Warner Animation Group is a relatively new animation studio (in comparison to its competition) and while they may be known for framing the “LEGO” cinematic world, Smallfoot is a colorful remainder that the animation studio seems to have some creative life beyond its “Brick” flagship franchise; offering up a promise chance to see the cartoon world (of children’s animated feature films) through new animated eyes for years to come.
4.2 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: September 28th, 2018
Reviewed On: October 17th, 2018
Smallfoot is 96 minutes long and is rated PG for some action, rude humor, and some thematic elements