Abominable, the latest offering from DreamWorks Animation, has a lot going on in its 97 minutes. It also requires you to sit through every one of those 97 minutes due to photos included in the end credits. Yet the film doesn’t make you feel like it’s an obligation to do so; instead, you want to see where its characters wind up after the film’s main action ends. Beautifully-animated and well-voiced, Abominable readily shares its good heart and goodwill by… well, let’s face it, being an a near-clone of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. One can’t deny the similarities between the two, and if Abominable had lived up to its name, you’d know. Thankfully, Jill Culton’s script (she also co-directs) features new sights and adventures, along with a different narrative thrust which bolsters its themes of respect and love.
Not to sound like Stefon from “Saturday Night Live,” but this film has everything the kids want and a few surprising heartfelt moments for the adults. Most of it is spent on a grand journey from Shanghai to the Himalayas as teenage Yi (Chloe Bennet) helps return an escaped Yeti named Everest to his mountain home. Both Yi and Everest are lost souls in need of direction and assistance – Yi’s dealing with her father’s sudden death, and Everest has broken out of a research laboratory in which he was kept for no reason other than the diminutive laboratory owner’s vainglorious ego. (I’m sensing a little bit of a Napoleon complex as well.) These are our guides through the film, their paths being the core which anchors the frippery of the other characters.
Everest is easy enough to explain and understand; he’s the rarest of all biological specimens, possessing magical qualities and a childlike sense of the world. Yi’s a much more complex character to come to grips with; she’s a teenage girl whose peers are more interested in “doing it for the ’gram” (that’s Instagram for you Luddites among us) while on holiday and turning their noses up at her on the street. The only people relatively close to her are aspiring hoopster Peng (Albert Tsai), her mother (Michelle Wong), and her grandmother Nai Nai (Tsai Chin), all of whom are puzzled at Yi’s daily disappearing act. She treats them like mere acquaintances instead of family, sinking herself into odd jobs for small pay to stay busy instead of having to deal with her grief.
Author Jeffrey Deaver once wrote, “When you move, they can’t getcha.”* Yi doesn’t stop moving for fear of facing her feelings; the only time we see her even remotely close to dealing is when she’s playing her father’s violin on a rooftop away from her family. It takes the sudden appearance of a wounded and scared Everest to start bringing her back to the land of the living, and she’s found the ultimate task: journey with him to bring him home. However, laboratory owner Mr. Burnish (Eddie Izzard), his lead scientist Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson), and their team of goons are in hot pursuit, willing to do everything necessary to bring him back to the lab. Not only that, Peng and Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) – one of the selfie-taking, status-obsessed teens – have unexpectedly (and on Jin’s part, somewhat unwillingly) tagged along for the ride.
As is typical of films like these, inner strengths and abilities are revealed during the journey. It’s in seeing Yi shed her armor, Jin dropping his pretentiousness, Peng just being a happy kid, and Everest lending the multi-thousand-mile trek his own brand of magic which endears Abominable to us. Yes, these are familiar tropes, but Culton’s script puts them together in a way where “been there, done that” thoughts get shifted to the back of our minds in favor of allowing us to appreciate each personal triumph. One such example of this features a 14-year-old Coldplay anthem remixed with region-appropriate instrumentation which shoulders the scene’s visuals, in addition to its lyrics reflecting Yi’s own internal struggles. It’s a heart-rending moment which, taken as the paean to loss and hope that it is, all at once uses and transcends the film’s animated milieu.
The lessons Abominable wants to impart upon us aren’t buried by the visuals or the emotion, especially during the film’s big “ONE LINE! BRINGS! IT ALL! TOGETHER!” (to be read/said à la William Shatner) moment. It wants to tell us our attachments to worldly possessions shouldn’t take precedence over the love for our family, friends, and the environment, and it does so in a mostly even-handed fashion. After all, it’s easy to receive messages from a film boasting the likes of Everest, whose cute-and-cuddly vibe never falters, and Yi’s strength powers the film to its soul-stirring conclusion.
* – The Bone Collector, 1997, ISBN-10: 0451469798