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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Smallfoot

Smallfoot is a pleasant and sweet natured animated film that teaches kids a valuable lesson of thinking for themselves.  It has a game cast, some catchy songs (yep, it's a musical), and it's genuinely quite fun.  I don't see this becoming anyone's favorite any time soon, but it definitely works, and even has a few solid laughs.

The movie introduces us to a mountain where a society of Yetis live in isolation.  They have lived there for centuries, believing that there is nothing below them except clouds and a pair of mammoths who carry the mountain on their backs.  This is the way it's always been, and our hero Migo (voice by Channing Tatum) accepts this reality full-heartedly.  His only concern is to follow in the footsteps of his father, Dorgle (Danny DeVito), whose job every morning is to launch himself with a giant catapult, and strike a giant gong head-first, as the Yetis believe that this makes the sun rise.  But one day, Migo happens to venture down the mountain further than he has before, and witnesses a plane crash.  He sees a pilot emerge from the wrecked plane, and is shocked by his first sighting of a human, or "smallfoot" as the Yetis refer to the fabled creatures that are supposed to not exist.  He tries to tell the rest of the village what he saw, but the village elder referred to as the Stonekeeper (Common) shoots down his story, and banishes Migo from the village before he can fill the other Yetis' heads with ideas that go against what they believe.

Forced into exile, Migo becomes more determined than ever to prove what he saw, and eventually learns that he is not alone, as there is a small group of Yetis who also believe in the existence of the smallfoot, and that they are led by the Stonekeeper's daughter, Meechee (Zendaya).  With their help, Migo makes his way all the way down the mountain, where he happens to come upon a human village at the base.  Within the village, we are introduced to Percy (James Corden), a nature show host whose ratings are tanking, and needs a big story to save his job.  He hears about the pilot from the mountain crash who supposedly encountered a Yeti, and becomes determined to do an episode on the fabled creature, even if he has to fake it.  Fate brings Migo and Percy together, and the movie has some fun with how they fail to communicate with each other. (Percy hears Migo's speech as horrifying roars and growls, while Migo hears Percy as squeaky-voiced gibberish.) When Migo brings the "smallfoot" back to his mountain village, it gets everyone thinking wild thoughts about what else might be real, and possibly puts everyone in danger, as it is revealed the Stonekeeper has been keeping the Yetis isolated from the humans all this time because of a tragic moment in history that no one but he knows of.

Smallfoot has more than enough visual gags and slapstick to keep kids entertained, but with its overall message of tolerance and not being afraid of what you don't understand, it at least has a bit more on its mind than your standard animated comedy for kids.  I like that lead director and co-writer Karey Kirkpatrick (Over the Hedge) did not feel the need to give the film a villain or lead antagonist.  Even if the Stonekeeper is trying to prevent Migo from exploring beyond the mountain, it is only to keep his people safe.  We can understand and relate, and he does learn a valuable lesson in the end.  This is ultimately a gentle film that does not revel in crude humor, and there's only one fart joke to be found, and it's a mild one.  It also doesn't feel the need to be edgy, or toss a lot of pop culture at the audience.  Its sense of humor is sweet enough that it can appeal largely to kids, and I admit, I smiled more than once.

And while there are better looking animated films out there, I quite liked the visual design here.  The Yetis do each have their own distinctive design in order to differentiate them, and some are even given pastel colors.  The design of the creatures is goofy and simple, and I'm sure they'll make great plush toys should the movie prove to be a hit at the box office.  But the big visual standout is the design of the Yeti mountain village, and how the animators have created a primitive but functional society for them to live.  Their world makes sense within the context of the film, and the animators clearly had a lot of fun dreaming it up.  Throw in a voice cast that seem to be having a blast playing these characters (with Tatum, Corden and Zendaya being the main attractions), and you have a movie that is fairly standard, but genuinely works and has more energy than you would expect.

Smallfoot is a movie that quickly grew on me.  I was initially taken in by the design of the world the Yetis live in, but found myself further intrigued by its overall message.  It doesn't shake things up for the genre, but it doesn't need to.  It's just a simple, bright little movie.

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