When two similar movies are made in close proximity, they are often described as “twin films.” Think Armageddon and Deep Impact, The Prestige and The Illusionist, and now Smallfoot and Abominable. The worst thing they can do is give you déjà vu, like you’ve seen this story before. The best is blaze a totally different path, telling such unique stories that the commonalities don’t even occur to you until leaving the theater. The latter is the case with Abominable, which, like Smallfoot, is also an animated tale about humans making contact with yetis, but the comparison ends there.
Abominable follows three children in China helping their new yeti friend, nicknamed Everest, get back home to the Himalayas. Everest has just escaped from a research facility run by Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson) in service to the eccentric explorer Burnish (Eddie Izzard) who wants to prove that his once-ridiculed yeti sighting was real.
While on the run from Dr. Zara and her private army, Everest meets Yi (Chloe Bennet), a teenage girl who never slows down, doing every odd job she can (walking dogs, throwing away fish heads). Since her father’s death a year earlier, her mission has been to save up enough money to go on the trip across China that he had always wanted. Those plans take a backseat when, in an effort to protect Everest, she decides to join him on his journey back. Along for the ride are Peng (Albert Tsai), a basketball-obsessed tween, and his older brother Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor), a vain pre-med student.
PG, 96 minutes
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema
The dynamic between the kids and the yeti is sweet; though he can’t speak, Everest is like a big, magical, hyperintelligent puppy, who communicates with his travel companions by intuition. The dialogue is smart but kid-friendly, and the characters are well-constructed yet broad enough to be appreciated by all audiences. Yi and Jin might have ended up developing crushes on one another in a lesser movie, but writer-director Jill Culton respects them as individuals and avoids the reductive formula of boy plus girl plus adventure equals romance.
Thematically, Abominable is primarily concerned with harmony. Sometimes that’s literal, as when Everest and Yi duet, she on violin and he with a deep, resonant hum. Sometimes it’s figurative: finding the harmony of a work-life balance, and the delicate relationship between nature and society. The strongest harmony in the story is learning to appreciate something or someone without laying any claim of ownership. People, places, and objects exist in their own right. It’s far more rewarding to find your balance with the world than to try to own everything.
Abominable is a cute, well-constructed adventure that never overstays its welcome or overplays its comic relief. It is a children’s movie first and foremost; this isn’t Inside Out or Pete’s Dragon, so adults need not rush to the theater. But if you find yourself responsible for a child and need to entertain them for 96 minutes, you can attend with full confidence that you won’t be annoyed, and may even find yourself charmed.
Local theater listings
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema 375 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056.
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213.
Violet Crown Cinema 200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000.