Abominable, the latest family-friendly film from DreamWorks Animation, is an appealing tale full of humorous touches and moving moments. That it also makes obvious nods to the studio's first How To Train Your Dragon, as well as the classics King Kong and E.T., doesn’t take away from its inherent charm.
By taking familiar set-ups and remixing them to tell its own story, Abominable creates an aura of warmth and safety that’s appropriate for a family film. It also allows the movie to wring genuine feeling from the main character's emotional journey, which may be of more interest to older viewers.
Abominable centers on Yi (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Chloe Bennet), a teenage girl whose father recently passed away. Over her summer vacation, Yi is determined to raise enough money to take the trip across China that she and her father had been planning. As a result, she's willing to take any job that will get her closer to her goal -- and distract her from her loss. At the same time, she’s become distant from her mother and grandmother and will only play the violin, an instrument she and her father both loved, when she’s alone on the roof of her apartment building.
One night after going to the roof to find solace in her violin, Yi discovers a young Yeti who escaped from a nearby lab. Their first meeting plays out much like that between Hiccup and Toothless in How To Train Your Dragon. The Yeti even looks and acts a bit like Toothless; it has the same rounded facial features and an eager, dog-like demeanor.
Both human and creature are frightened by their initial encounter, but once Yi realizes the Yeti is scared and injured, her sympathy overwhelms her fear. She bandages him up, feeds him, and helps him to hide from the people pursuing him. Soon she realizes his home is on Mount Everest, and that he must return to his family there.
That sets Yi off on a 2,000-mile journey from the city where she lives in China to the Himalayas to bring the Yeti, whom she names Everest, home (DreamWorks co-produced the movie with Chinese production company Pearl Studios). Yi's friends Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) and Peng (Albert Tsai) join her and Everest on their quest, which also requires them to elude wealthy exotic-animal collector Burnish (Eddie Izzard) and zoologist Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson), who want to re-capture the Yeti.
Written and directed by Jill Culton, Abominable doesn’t go for big laughs like some of its DreamWorks predecessors, including the Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar films. That’s not to say it isn’t funny. There are definitely moments of silliness and chuckle-inducing sight gags. In particular, the vain Jin, a college student who fancies himself a ladies’ man, becomes the butt of many jokes due to his attempts to maintain his fancy clothes and social-media posting while the group works through rough terrain.
For younger viewers, the playful interaction between Peng and Everest will also be a source of amusement. Peng is a young basketball fan, and the group soon determines that he and Everest must be at about the same maturity level for their respective species. On the other hand, the relationship between Yi and Everest goes deeper. Despite his youth, Everest proves to be wise beyond his years because, as Yi helps him find his family, Everest ensures that Yi finds what she needs too.
The dynamic between the trio of humans helping the Yeti get home in many ways mirrors that of the siblings from E.T. Of various ages and personalities, they prove to be a complementary unit brought together by their desire to help Everest. And of course, their bond only grows over the course of their adventure.
The movie’s character animation is attractive and the movement of Everest’s fur is especially impressive. However, it’s in its depiction of nature that Abominable really shines. The movie does a fantastic job portraying the beauty of the natural environment and the wonder it can inspire. This fits in with one of the film’s larger themes: the negative impact of the human desire to possess and control nature. While the film never becomes overtly political, the message that nature should be left to flourish in its own environment is clear.
Where the heart of the movie really lies, though, is in Yi’s journey as she grieves her father’s death and learns to reconnect with her remaining family. It’s a touching trek and one that will ring true to anyone who has ever lost a loved one. Despite one awkward dip into sentimentality featuring Coldplay's song "Fix You," the movie doesn’t overplay this part of the story or wallow in Yi’s loss. Instead, it gracefully explores the emotional terrain she navigates.
Abominable proves to be a satisfying outing that both kids and adults will enjoy. While the parts are familiar, the movie as a whole is engaging. And even though the movie’s destination and the conclusions it reaches are predictable, the wonder inspired along the way makes for a worthwhile trip.
Opening Friday nationwide, Abominable is written and directed by Jill Culton (Toy Story 2) and stars Chloe Bennet, Tenzing Norgay Trainor, Albert Tsai, Eddie Izzard and Sarah Paulson.