Mythical creatures pining for home is quickly becoming a sub-genre in animated kid’s films. Earlier this year “Missing Link” gave us a homesick 8-foot-tall Sasquatch who longed for his homeland, the Himalayan mountains. “Abominable,” a new film starring the voice of Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” star Chloe Bennet, sees a Yeti and some newfound friends on a journey to Mount Everest, the highest place on Earth.
Bennet voices Shanghai teenager Yi, a student on summer holiday. Much to the consternation of her single mother and grandmother Yi is never home. What they don’t know is that she’s out doing odd jobs, dog walking, babysitting, working in the garbage pit of a restaurant, to make money to take the trip across China planned by her late father.
Meanwhile, a Yeti (Joseph Izzo) escapes from a research facility into the city. Finding a safe haven on the roof of Yi’s apartment building, he sees a tourism billboard for Mount Everest and becomes wistful for home. Yi, seeking solace on the roof, soon discovers him. Her initial fear is replaced by concern when she finds he’s not nearly as fierce as he looks. “I don’t know where you came from,” she says as a team of Yeti hunters search the city for him, “but you sure don’t belong here.” The two, along with Yi’s cousins, the selfie-obsessed Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) and playful Peng (Albert Tsai), begin a journey to the Yeti’s homeland while staying one step ahead of megalomaniac exotic animal collector Burnish (Eddie Izzard) and his zoologist Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson), who wants to chop the creature up in little pieces for experiments.
“Abominable” is not plot heavy. It’s an action-adventure for kids that sees a plucky group of kids bond together to help someone (or something) in need. Simple messages on grief, loss and perseverance (“When things get tough you just keep going,” Yi says helpfully.) provide an emotional subtext but it’s the film’s light touch and visuals that pack the biggest punch.
Director Jill Culton splashes the screen with colour, staging action scenes with giant blueberries and a wave of vivid yellow canola flowers. Even if it starts to feel drawn out as the Yeti uses his magical powers to escape a series of close scrapes with the villains, it’s use of eye-catching animation—check out the koi fish clouds—is very entertaining. Culton learned her craft at Pixar and it shows. She is a clever and compelling visual stylist.
The Yeti, who they nickname Everest, doesn’t speak, unless you count his king-sized burps, but manages to be endearing. He’s an overgrown puppy with the kind of goofy face that is all but guaranteed to see boatloads of stuffed animals. The story may ride the line between cliché and the overly familiar but the well-defined characters, including the lovable creature and the sharp-tongued grandmother Nai Nai (Tsai Chin)—”You need to eat,” she says. “You don’t want to be so short like your mother.”—provide enough of an emotional spine to make up for the story’s shortcomings.