SMALLFOOT

Reviewed by GREG KING

Directors: Karey Kirkpatrick and Jason Reisig

Stars: voices of Channing Tatum, Danny De Vito, James Corden, Common, Zendaya, Le Bron James, Elly Henry, Gina Rodriguez, Yara Shahidi, Patricia Heaton.

Channing Tatum in Smallfoot (2018)This charming animated film is set high above the clouds in the Himalayan Mountains where there lies an idyllic village inhabited by Yeti (or the Abominable Snowman as it is also sometimes known).

Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum, from Magic Mike, etc) is the son of the village bell ringer Dorgle (voiced by Danny De Vito, from The Lorax, etc) whose job it is to “wake the sun” every morning. According to Yeti lore, the sun is a “giant snail” that needs to be woken up every morning. Thus, each morning Dorgle is launched from a catapult to strike a huge gong. It is a job that has been a family tradition for generations. Migo is about to be trained in the fine art of bell ringing so he can take over the responsibility. But during a practice run he overshoots the gong and consequently lands on the mountain side beneath the clouds.

He sees a plane crash into the snow and watches as the human pilot parachutes to safety. The pilot sees Migo and flees for his life. Migo returns to the village with tales of having seen a “smallfoot” human creature. However, most of the villagers initially greet his tale with disbelief. According to the Stonekeeper (voiced by Common), the tribal elder who keeps the stone tablets that records the history of the yeti and their laws, there is no such thing as a smallfoot.

When Migo persists with his story, the Stonekeeper banishes him from the village for disrupting the harmony and status quo of the village. Migo sets out to prove the existence of the smallfoot, with the help of his friends Gwangi (voiced by legendary NBA basketball star Le Bron James), Kolka (Gina Rodriguez, from tv series Jane The Virgin, etc), Fleem (Ely Henry) who have formed the unofficial Smallfoot Evidentiary Society, which seeks proof of the existence of the mythical creature. He also finds support from Meechee (Zendaya, from The World’s Greatest Showman, etc), who happens to be the Stonekeeper’s daughter. She has long believed that there is life below the clouds, and is keen to expose the truth.

Outcast and alone, Migo makes his way down the mountain and eventually arrives in a Nepalese village. There he sees Percy Patterson (voiced by James Corden), an unscrupulous cable tv show host with a massive ego who is desperately trying to restore his reputation and make a comeback as a serious presenter of news. He plans to fake the discovery of a yeti to boost his ratings, with the help of his patient producer and girlfriend Brenda (Yara Shahidi, from tv series Black-ish, etc).

Percy is at first horrified when he comes face to face with a real-life yeti. After some early confusion, Migo takes Percy back to the Yeti village. Along they way he saves him from a bear attack, and then Percy returns the favour by tending to an injured foot. But upon his return to the village, things take a bit of a darker turn. Migo learns about the troubled history between the Yeti and the humans, in which the Yeti have always been treated as terrible man-eating monsters that have to be hunted down and killed.

Smallfoot is based on a little-known book entitled Yeti Tracks, written by Sergio Pablos, the guy behind Despicable Me, etc. The amiable enough family friendly offering has been adapted to the screen by Glenn Ficcara and John Requa (better known for their more adult entertainments like Bad Santa and I Love You Phillip Morris, etc), Clare Sera (Blended) and co-director Karey Kirkpatrick (Over The Hedge, etc). This is the third feature for animation veteran Kirkpatrick and he brings plenty of energy and sly wit and some heavy handed subversive political messages to the material. A running joke highlights the inability of yetis and humans to communicate as they have a different language.

The film serves up a colourful mix of animation, sight gags, startling visuals and a couple of catchy tunes written by Kirkpatrick and his brother Wayne. The animation is great, and the depiction of the Yeti village is superb and detailed, while the snow-covered mountain settings are also beautifully rendered. Migo himself looks like a cross between an albino Chewbacca and the Grinch. Kirkpatrick and her co-director, animation veteran Jason Reisig have assembled a stellar ensemble cast to bring the characters to life.

This charming computer animated feature inverts the myth of the legendary monster Big Foot, and serves up some positive and well-meaning messages about tolerance, understanding, acceptance, prejudice, science versus religious beliefs, truth and the mass media, community and the importance of understanding differences. It is ideal for the school holidays as it has enough to entertain younger children while offering older audiences some food for thought.

★★★

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