Animated 'Abominable' covers familiar family-friendly terrain

  • Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennet) helps a yeti find his way home in the animated adventure "Abominable."

    Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennet) helps a yeti find his way home in the animated adventure "Abominable." Courtesy of DreamWorks Animation

  • Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennet), center, and her friends help an escaped yeti journey across China in "Abominable."

    Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennet), center, and her friends help an escaped yeti journey across China in "Abominable." Courtesy of DreamWorks Animation

 
 
Posted9/26/2019 6:00 AM

"Abominable" - ★ ★

In the colorful, animated action-comedy "Abominable," co-directors Jill Culton and Todd Wilderman bypass the Pixar template of appealing to both adults and children, and create a generic magical fantasy mostly for kids who have not yet seen the many better movies that inspired this one.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

For instance, William Dear's 1987 Bigfoot comedy "Harry and the Hendersons," with its reliable and often recycled plot about a big-hearted, beastly creature befriended by a human who protects it from nefarious bad guys intent on capturing or killing it.

Here, the lovable titular character, a Himalayan yeti given the name Everest, seems to be equal parts Lassie, E.T. and an X-Men mutant with the power to control nature.

Everest begins the movie by escaping from a research facility near Shanghai.

Meanwhile, across town, we meet the insolent and heartbroken Yi (Chloe Bennett), a young, rebellious tomboy who works an insane number of side jobs, all to finance a trip across China, a journey that she and her father had promised to make together before he died.

Yi discovers the terrified yeti hiding on the rooftop of her apartment building. She gradually earns the creature's trust and figures out from a Mount Everest billboard that her new friend wants to go there. He wants to go home!

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And so begins the hero's journey across China with Everest, Yi, her shallow, narcissistic classmate Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor), plus his short, basketball-obsessed cousin Peng (Albert Tsai).

They try to stay a million steps ahead of the bad guys, led by an ultrawealthy, cranky explorer named Burnish (Eddie Izzard in fine villainous form), who had captured Everest to prove to the world he was right when he spotted a yeti years ago on a Mount Everest expedition.

Burnish receives support from his professorial henchwoman Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson), who insists the yeti be captured, not killed. But the rat on her shoulder, like a pirate's parrot, suggests a more duplicitous agenda.

"Abominable" is clearly a Chinese story with Chinese characters navigating a virtual travelogue touting China's spectacular sites to visit. (It's the first DreamWorks coproduction with the Chinese company Pearl Studio.)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Yet, the movie (written by Culton) doesn't feel all that authentic, given that it strives to be a market-safe cultural compromise that appeals to both East and West audiences.

"Abominable" offers standard-issue lessons to be learned, among them love your family (Michelle Wong plays Yi's exasperated mom, and Tsai Chin her comic relief Nai Nai), be yourself, and take time to listen to the music.

Or in Yi's case, magnificently play the music on her violin with Dad's photograph inside the case.

Despite a hilarious running gag of goofy Whooping Snakes constantly popping up, "Abominable" doesn't hold the attention of its intended audience very long.

Kids at a Saturday preview in Chicago's River East theater had been quietly engaged up to when Yi confesses her feelings to Jin in the woods.

Then, as if a bubble popped, the kids broke into talking, whining and crying to signify their interest had died.

Maybe they wondered the same thing I did -- if Everest can magically harness the wind to teleport himself out of danger near the end, why didn't he simply do that during the rest of the movie?

• • •

Starring: Chloe Bennet, Sarah Paulson, Tenzing Norgay Trainor, Albert Tsai, Eddie Izzard, Tsai Chin

Directed by: Jill Culton and Todd Wilderman

Other: A Universal Pictures release. Rated PG. 97 minutes

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