Abominable (2019) Review
AND CHARMINGLY COLORFUL
With the varying myths and legends of fantastical creatures, the imagination of the Yeti has been one of keen interest. Naturally, the tales to be told of these mythical beasts have varied (depending on the regions and culture, but the most commonplace description of the Yeti (or also known as the Abominable Snowman) is an ape-like creature taller than an average human, that is said to inhabit the Himalayan mountains. As legends speaks, these creatures are reclusive and are potential dangerous to anyone who encounters them. Taking a more friendly approach, Hollywood has somewhat taken an interest in reimagining these creatures for a more kid-oriented stance with depiction Yeti, with recent animated endeavors such as 2018’s Smallfoot as well as 2019’s Missing Link. Now, DreamWorks animation (along with Pearl Studios) and directors Jill Culton and Todd Wilderman releases the latest animated feature that showcases the Yeti in the movie Abominable. Does the movie find heart and humor within its story or is it just another mediocre attempt from DreamWorks Studios?
Always on the go, Yi (Chloe Bennet) is a young teen trying to put together some money in her town by doing various odds and ends jobs; hoping to collect enough cash to fund an extensive trip around China she was planning with her father before he died. However, it hasn’t been an easy task to complete. Into her life comes a mysterious Yeti who’s hurt and seeks shelter on Yi’s apartment rooftop, hiding from a hunt organized by Burnish (Eddie Izzard), an elderly / powerful man who’s seeking the fabled creature for public display; amassing a valuable commodity and a fortune. Helping the creature with his wounds, Yi nicknames the Yeti “Everest”, after the mountain he’s desperate to return to. Setting out to protect Everest and return him to his home, Yi embarks on harrowing journey across China, with her self-absorbed cousin, Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor), and her diminutive friend, Peng Albert Tasi), while Burnish, along with Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson), an English zoologist hoping to reach the creature first, is in hot pursuit of the teens; determine to reclaim the mythical creature once again.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
What can I say…. seems like Yetis are all the rage in current Hollywood. Of course, the idea of using the mythos behind the Himalayan folklore creature of legend isn’t exactly the most original (as it has been done various other movies, books, TV shows, and video games throughout the years), but I find it quite interesting that several animated kids movies have been presenting these mythical creatures as a main focal for the cinematic stories. Of course, I did love Smallfoot as it was a cute and charm (as well as musical) adventure that showcased plenty humor and heart along the way, while Missing Link was also another wholesome endeavor from Laika Studios (even though its probably their weakest feature).
This, of course, brings me back to talking about Abominable, DreamWorks 2019 release that once again uses the character of the Yeti has the main catalyst for the film’s central plot. To be honest, with DreamWorks Studios recent releases being a somewhat “hit or miss”, I really didn’t hear much about this movie (during its announcement period or that much pre-release hype). I think I did see the first movie trailer for the movie when I saw How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World a few months back. However, my interest in it just wasn’t there. Like I said, it seems like another “bandwagon” idea (i.e animated movies involving yetis), so it wasn’t completely on my radar….if you know what I mean. It was until a few weeks back that I saw the last movie trailer (I think when I went to see Dora and the Lost City of Gold) that I kind of got a little excited to see this movie as the animation looked pretty intriguing to me. So, I decided to check out Abominable to see if it’s worth a glance or not? Was it? Well, as a matter of fact, it is. While the plot might be a bit problematic, Abominable is certainly a charming kids fantasy adventure that has plenty of heart and solid animation throughout. It doesn’t falter in a few areas, but the positives definitely outweigh them.
Abominable is co-directed by Jill Culton, whose previous background includes working on animated features such as Open Season, Monsters Inc, and Toy Story, and Todd Wilderman, whose previous background includes working on animated features like Trolls, The Croods, and Open Season 2. Given both of their backgrounds in animated feature endeavors, Culton and Wilderman seems like respectable choices for directing this feature as they approach the film with a crystal-clear intent from onset to conclusion. There isn’t a whole lot of ingenuity in Abominable’s framework (more on that below), but Culton and Wilderman make up for that within their storytelling nuances; offering up a grand adventure for Yi and company to traverse across and utilizing the stunning visual landscapes of China (or rather Asian topography) to dot the feature throughout. In addition, Culton also acted as script writer for the movies, which provides a tight narrative of friendship, which is most notable in the relationship bonds between Yi and Everest as well as in Yi with Jin / Peng. There’s plenty of warmth throughout the movie, which has a resonating charm in many sequences that play to the film’s strengths. It may not beat out something as a groundbreaking as Pixar’s signature styles, but it definitely works and tries to emulate the feeling….and ultimately pulls it off (more organic than manufactured). I also like how the musical instrument of a violin played an important part in Yi’s story, which did have some of the more emotional and visually stunning pieces in the movie. Plus, the movie’s story does offer up a wholesome dose of morals and message to learn throughout, especially ones considering about family, friendship, and believing in oneself. Altogether, I was quite impressed how much I enjoyed watching Abominable as its one of the kid’s animated movies that will stick with you long after viewing it. Definitely one of the better DreamWorks movies.
What definitely makes Abominable stand out is in its overall animated presentation, which is quite beautiful to behold. Of course, it definitely looks like animated feature film in 2019, but its technical visuals certainly make the feature stand out more so than some other similar projects. While Missing Link had Laika’s signature clay / stop-motion animation design and Smallfoot had a lively cartoon shades of its characters (a bit more oblonged and various different face / body work for its characters), Abominable keeps to a more traditional style of characters designs, but makes them quite endearing and polished. Plus, given the film’s background setting in China, majority of the characters have a distinct Asian style influence in their appearances (and no….I’m not talking about the stereotypical Asian nuances). Additionally, that Asian style of influences can also be felt within their various background setting, which definitely has an Asian feeling throughout…. from its urban city to its mountain range. Because of this, the films ‘cinematography, which was done by Robert Edward Crawford, is quite compelling and almost visually stunning throughout; providing a plethora of picturesque scenes that really do make Abominable feel (aesthetically speaking) beautifully cinematic and memorable. Also, while the movie does feature a collective selection of today’s music (a showcase of pop songs that accompany the feature’s scenes), the film’s score, which was composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams, has some great melodic pieces scatter throughout the movie; complimenting some of the more cinematic sequences in a harmonious manner.
Unfortunately, Abominable does face a few obstacles along the way that it just can’t quite overcome in its theatrical storytelling ambition. Perhaps the most notable one is the simple fact that of the lack of originality of what’s provided in the feature’s narrative. What’s given is quite a compelling plot of Yi’s quest to bring Everest home and learning important values along the way. However, this scenario has been done many times before in various different feature films (both animated and live action). Abominable doesn’t really deviate from the expected narrative path (beyond one or two elements), which certainly does make the movie has a “done there, done that” vibe throughout. Thus, its quite easy to see where the movie’s narrative is gonna be heading before it actually happens (both in terms of storytelling and character building), but the movie’s animated visuals and solid voice acting do help elevate these formulaic predictabilities. That being said, I did wish for something a bit new and different from Abominable.
With the movie clocking in at around one hour and thirty-seven minutes (i.e. 97 minutes), Abominable certainly does move a brisk pace and, while that might be good (for the most part), there are a few sequences that could’ve been added or expanded upon to help better understand certain aspects in the movie. Perhaps the most notable one is in Everest’s magic ability, which is never fully explained and almost acts like “a free get out of jail card” as it works to trouble ensues. Also, I felt that there could’ve been one or two more scenes of Yi’s journey across China. These two are real “deal breakers’ for me, but merely minor criticism that I had with the film.
The voice cast in Abominable is actually pretty good. Granted the movie doesn’t have a plethora of recognizable names (like something found in a Disney / Pixar feature), but the collective grouping of these actors and actresses are up for the task and do showcase their talents in their respective characters. Acting as the film’s main protagonist hero is the character of Yi, who is voiced by actress Chloe Bennet). Known for her roles in Nashville, Valley Girl, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Bennet gives a very distinct voice / persona in Yi, with a certain warmth and caring, but also one that is determined and even a little bit conflicted. Of course, the character of Yi isn’t relatively new nor original, but the movie’s framework of the character guides the feature along, with Bennet showcasing the journey of Yi’s adventures through her various emotions (i.e. happiness, sadness, joy, elation, etc.) throughout.
Likewise, the talents of actors Tenzing Norgay Trainor (Liv and Maddie and Knight Squad) and Albert Tsai (Trophy Wife and Dr. Ken) to bring to life the animated characters of Yi’s cousin Jin and their younger friend Peng. Yes, both of these characters’ outlines and overall journey in Abominable is quite clear and cookie cutter, but what’s offer definitely works as both Trainor and Tasi’s voice work is great; elevating both Jin and Peng to be memorable. As a side-note, Joseph Izzo, whose background includes various production coordinators on projects like Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, does provide the various grunts / roars for the character of Everest.
Looking beyond those quartet, the villains of Abominable (Burnish and Dr. Zara) are lively constructs that certainly fit the bill for an animated adventure such as this. Plus, the voice talents of actor Eddie Izzard (Victoria & Abdul and Across the Universe) as the greedy / determine Burnish and actress Sarah Paulsen (Ocean’s 8 and Glass) as the self-conscious animal tractor / zoologist Dr. Zara act as the “seasoned veteran” of the feature; anchoring their performances, which both provide excellent vocal works in their respective characters. Rounding out the cast are several minor character roles, including actor James Hong (Blade Runner and Kung Fu Panda) as Yak Leader, actress Michelle Wong (Scandal and ER) as Yi’s mom, and actress Tsai Chin (Memoirs of a Geisha and Now You See Me 2) as Yi’s grandmother Nai Nai. With the movie focusing on the more primary characters (heroes and villains), these secondary / supporting characters don’t get much time to develop beyond their initial setup. However, what’s presented is perfectly fine as the voice talents for them are solid. No harm, no foul.
Yi sets out on adventure with her friends and to return their mythical friend back to his home in the movie Abominable. Directors Jill Culton and Todd Wilderman latest film finds a charming balance of humor and heart within its animated tale of friendship and finding the courage to believe in oneself. While the movie isn’t original and is quite predictable, it certainly makes up for that within its visual presentation of animation and cinematics as well as its poignant emotion beats and in its solid voice talents across the board. Personally, I liked this movie. Granted, the film’s narrative plot has been done many times before, but it was still a very charming and wholesome endeavor that I quite enjoyed from start to finish. Thus, I would say that I would “recommend” this movie to all; regardless of age as it offers some fun animated entertainment to all (both young and old). Plus, out of the three recent animated movies surroundings the mythos of Yetis (this movie, Smallfoot, and Missing Link), I would say that I would enjoy this movie the most of that grouping. In the end, while DreamWorks will continue to create movies (with a few hits or misses along the way), Abominable is cute and visually animated tale that’s definitely worth checking out; exploring Yi’s adventure and their warming friendship she forms with Everest.
4.1 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: September 27th, 2019
Reviewed On: October 20th, 2019
Abominable is 97 minutes and is rated PG for some action and mild rude humor