Genre: CG Animation
Director: Karey Kirkpatrick
Cast: Channing Tatum, Zendaya, James Corden, Gina Rodriguez, LeBron James, Common, Danny DeVito
Runtime: 1 hr 37 mins
Released By: Warner Bros Pictures
Opening Day: 27 September 2018
Synopsis: News of this “smallfoot” throws the simple yeti community into an uproar over what else might be out there in the big world beyond their snowy village, in an all new story about friendship, courage and the joy of discovery.
Cleverly inverting the point-of-view from which a tale of human and Yetis would probably be told, ‘Smallfoot’ tells of a clan of bigfoots living high up in the Himalayan mountains whose peaceful and orderly lives are disrupted when one of their own stumbles upon a smallfoot. It isn’t just that these smallfoots have thus far been the stuff of myth; in fact, their very existence goes against the community’s long-held beliefs, which are literally set in stone and worn around the neck of the high and mighty Stonekeeper (Common). So as you can probably expect, that very individual is told to either rescind his account or face banishment from the community, but by bravely choosing the latter, opens up a whole new path of knowledge, understanding and enlightenment for his fellow 18-foot hairy denizens.
Adapting from the book ‘Yeti Tracks’ by animator Sergio Pablos is Dreamworks Animation veteran Karey Kirkpatrick and his co-director Jason Reisig, and the duo fashion a lively, fast-paced and colourful action adventure that sees our hero Migo (Channing Tatum) venture below the clouds concealing their mountaintop habitat to find the smallfoot and prove that he isn’t lying or delusional. But had the movie simply been about Migo confronting the ostensibly deceitful Stonekeeper, it would probably be no more than the stuff of Saturday-morning cartoons; instead, Kirkpatrick and co-writer Clare Sera find unexpected depth digging deeper into why the bigfoots had sequestered themselves in the first place, weaving in a poignant lesson on the dangers of fear and close-mindedness as well as the transformative power of communication.
Lest you think that the movie ends up being heavy-handed, we can reassure you that it never does, or for that matter turn preachy. On the contrary, there are plenty of amusing details along the way – like how the exuberant Migo is at first perfectly content to follow in his father’s (Danny DeVito) footsteps to have himself catapulted headfirst towards a giant gong every morning in order to wake the sun up; or the band of rebel Yetis called the clandestine Smallfoot Evidentiary Society (or S.E.S. in short), led by the Stonekeeper’s own daughter Meechee (Zendaya), who assist Migo on his quest; or how Migo first runs into Percy (James Corden), an animal TV show host whom he will become unlikely buddies with, when the latter in his desperation for clicks tries to convince a fellow reporter to dress up in a Yeti costume so he can pretend to have captured one on camera.
Just as worthy of mention are the couple of Looney Tunes-esque sequences that are clearly meant to hark back to its parent studio’s golden era of animation. Migo’s initial descent becomes an extended set-piece that includes a tangle with a rope-bridge and its two precipitous cliffs, as well as with the broken body of the propeller plane which Migo had seen the original smallfoot crash-land out of. Later on, a refuge from a blizzard inside a deep cave becomes the scene of a series of comic misunderstandings, including a warming up on top of a pile of burning firewood, an encounter with an irate mother bear who had just put her baby cubs to sleep, and a classic display of language barriers. There is inventiveness in each of these gags, and calibration in both pace and rhythm, so even though they are zippy and zany, they never get too hectic for their own good.
Kids will also love the couple of musical numbers, penned by Karey and his fellow Kirkpatrick brother Wayne, including the narration-and-song opening ‘Perfection’ by Channing Tatum, the inspirational ‘Wonderful Life’ by Zendaya, and the edgy rap ‘Let It Lie’ by Common. To be sure, none of these reach the heights of Disney’s ‘Frozen’ or even ‘Moana’, but they are definitely catchy enough to sustain their own energetically animated diversions. They also give the off-the-beaten voice cast ample opportunity to demonstrate their lesser-seen (or heard?) talents, and we dare say that Tatum, Zendaya and Common pull off the singing parts beautifully. Those familiar with Corden’s ‘Carpool Karaoke’ series will be glad to know he has a quirky number here too, that is based on Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’.
So even though ‘Smallfoot’ never hits the Pixar gold standard of feature animations, or perhaps even the subversive ingenuity of Warner Animation Group’s own ‘The Lego Movie’, there is plenty of fun and laughs to be had in this fable on lies and ‘myth-understandings’, as well as on mis-communication and the lack thereof. Like we said, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that its makers haven’t opted for just another superficially glossy piece of kids’ entertainment, and have instead decided to evolve the narrative in more complex and satisfying ways. It isn’t small or unambitious by any measure, and is in fact big on both entertainment and emotion, so you’ll find that there’s something for every member of the family – big or small – in this delightfully joyous celebration of wonder, discovery and truth.
(Big on fun, laughs and meaning, 'Smallfoot' cleverly inverts the typical human-yeti story for a delightful yet thoughtful fable on discovery, truth and understanding)
Review by Gabriel Chong