“Smallfoot,” a new animated film starring the voices of Channing Tatum, James Corden, Zendaya, Common and LeBron James, does a flip flop on the regular Bigfoot legend. Instead of humans wondering if Sasquatches are real, in this musical fantasy it’s the ape-like Yetis who doubt the existence of humans.
Migos, voiced by Tatum, a giant white-haired Sasquatch lives, in with his clan in the Himalayas, high above the clouds. He, like all the Yetis—they look like distant cousins to Rankin & Bass’s Abominable Snowmonster of the North—believe they fell from the butt of the great sky bison, that they live on a giant ice island supported by mammoths and that a glowing sky snail illuminates their world. Their laws are literally written in stone and kept by tribal leader the Stonekeeper (Common). What they don’t believe in are humans. “Everyone knows the Smallfoot isn’t real.”
One day, while training for his new job of gongmaster—the Yeti who wakes the village every morning—he overshoots the gong and tumbles into the snowy distance where he sees—or at least thinks he sees—a Smallfoot. Excited, he rushes back to his village with the news. He is met with equal parts wonder and anger. “If Migos is saying he saw a Smallfoot,” they say, “he is saying the stone is wrong.” His heresy gets him banished but soon he connects with a secret group, the S.E.S. (Smallfoot Evidentiary Society) run by the Stonekeeper’s daughter Meechee (Zendaya). A small collection of artefacts—like a tiny toilet paper rolls they think is a “scroll of invisible wisdom”—has convinced them of the existence of humans. Together they challenge their belief system to find the truth about Smallfoot. “It’s not about tearing down old ideas,” says Meechee, “it’s about finding new ones.”
Meanwhile in a nearby mountain town a wildlife television show host Percy Patterson (Corden) sees the Yetis as a way to improve his sagging ratings. It would be the scoop of a lifetime but at what price?
“Smallfoot” feels stretched to feature length. The animation is solid, there are jokes to make young and old laugh and Migos even revives a few of Tatum’s “Magic Mike” moves. The trouble lies in the music. It feels wedged in. This isn’t a musical by any stretch but its littered with generic pop songs—and one truly nightmare inducing version of “Under Pressure”—that are nicely realized but add little to the overall experience except for a few minutes of running time.
Better are the ideas. Wedged in between the singing and slapstick are good messages about communication and authenticity—“The truth is complicated and scary,” says Meechee, “but it is better than living a lie.”—and questioning authority. “Questions lead to knowledge,” says Gwangi (LeBron James), “and knowledge is power.” It’s about acceptance, about celebrating our differences and co-existence. In troubled, divided times these are powerful messages even when delivered by a giant Yeti.
“Smallfoot” is a big splashy movie stuffed with important ideas. Unfortunately propping those ideas up is only about an hour’s worth of story padded with songs and silliness to an hour and forty minutes.