Stepping stone: Smallfoot offers kids a pathway to big ideas

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The animated Smallfoot’s feel-good story is told by a star-studded cast including Zendaya, James Corden, Common, and LeBron James. Image: Warner Bros. The animated Smallfoot’s feel-good story is told by a star-studded cast including Zendaya, James Corden, Common, and LeBron James. Image: Warner Bros.

If you’re going to shamelessly mine classic films for plots, there are worse choices than Planet of the Apes. And if the goal is to keep a child occupied for two hours, you can do worse than Smallfoot. It’s the ultimate synthesis of what makes kids’ movies good without resorting to the lowest common denominator: screaming animals, musical numbers from a celebrity cast, gags for the adults, and a plot that’s smart but accessible for developing minds.

The story follows an isolated society of yetis on a remote mountaintop whose entire way of life is turned upside down when Migo (Channing Tatum) makes contact with a “smallfoot” (a human) in the form of TV wildlife celebrity Percy Patterson (James Corden). The nonexistence of the smallfoot is written on one of many stones that outline the laws of yeti civilization, and the discovery has dire implications. If that stone is wrong, others might be too, and then what is anyone supposed to believe? The Stonekeeper (Common) keeps order with a calm, soothing confidence while denying what is plainly obvious, making him the film’s villain. But what if the stones, while not factual, serve a larger truth? What do you do when fact and truth are not the same?

When Smallfoot works, the loftiness of its story and the madcap slapstick of its presentation come together in harmony. When it doesn’t, it’s just a kids’ movie with lots of goofy hijinks. Zendaya, voicing the Stonekeeper’s daughter, has a nice little song, Corden does an enthusiastic remix of Queen’s “Under Pressure,” and Common commits to his expository rap. Tatum shows enthusiasm in his songs, and the fact that he is not as musically seasoned as his co-stars works to his character’s advantage. Migo is not an exceptional yeti in any way other than his commitment to family and friends, and a desire to tell the truth. That’s all you need to do the right thing.

It’s easy to come down on movies like this as familiar and transparent, but there is a benefit to the familiarity in pace, style, and even the gags that pack a slightly subversive punch. Show kids a silly movie with cute characters, bright visuals, and some of their favorite stars, and maybe they’ll walk out with an idea of how to question societal consensus with respect and good intentions.

There are points at which the wholesale theft of Planet of the Apes can be distracting, and too many of the jokes land with a thud, but Smallfoot has its heart in the right place and has just enough sophistication to keep things interesting.

Smallfoot

PG, 96 minutes

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema


Playing this week

 Alamo Drafthouse Cinema 377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056 z A Simple Favor, A Star is Born, Bad Times at the El Royale, Crazy Rich Asians, Fahrenheit 11/9, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, Life Itself, Night School, Venom, White Boy Rick

 Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213 z A Simple Favor, A Star is Born, Assassination Nation, Christopher Robin, Crazy Rich Asians, Fahrenheit 11/9, Hell Fest, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, Life Itself, The Meg, Night School, The Nun, The Predator, Searching, Smallfoot, Venom, White Boy Rick, The Wife

Violet Crown Cinema 200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000 z A Simple Favor, Assassination Nation, BlacKkKlansman, Blaze, Crazy Rich Asians, Fahrenheit 11/9, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, Juliet, Naked, Night School, Life Itself, Love, Gilda, Pick of the Litter, White Boy Rick

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