Abominable is a kids’ movie with a lot of unanswered questions. But that’s fine by me since its target audience will most likely not have the same ones I do. Refreshingly though it is a kids movie that has the gall to asks kids to be awed by the world around them.
Jill Culton directed, and wrote, the film. She’s not interested in fleshing out character’s lives so much as giving us a peek into their inner lives. Yi (Chloe Bennet) is a young girl mourning the death of her father. Exactly how he died or even how long ago he died is never hinted at or even explained. We just know Yi is sad and growing distant from her family.
Culton’s script is filled with similar holes. But none of them really matter to kids. To a kid, they’ll just need to know someone is dead or someone is sad and immediately feel empathy. She cleverly gives us a film in the abstract instead of focusing on the here and now. Yi goes from sad, confused, curious, elated, and angry and the kids will follow her on her emotional journey.
One night Yi discovers a yeti on the roof of her apartment in Shanghai. Like all kids, when faced with a giant mythological creature, she feels an instant kinship with it. The Yeti sees a billboard for Mount Everest and indicates it wants to go home. So Yi calls him Everest.
Everest, though, comes with his own baggage. He’s escaped from an evil billionaire known only as Mr. Burnish (Eddie Izzard). His lackey a zoologist Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson) seems to be both his right-hand woman and the voice of reason and common sense. A retired explorer he stumbled upon Everest, captured him, and is planning on showing him to the world to vindicate himself.
How they captured Everest or even when doesn’t matter. The point is, he was captured and imprisoned and now he’s not. Hunted by Burnish and his minions, Yi decides the safest place for Everest is…well Everest.
Her friends Peng (Albert Tsai) and Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) come along for the ride. At first, they are under the misunderstanding that Everest has kidnapped Yi. When they discover he hasn’t and that he is being chased, they decide to go with Yi to help get Everest home.
Culton’s script has a lot of holes. But I love the way she trims the fat and mainly sticks to the basics. Not to mention she isn’t afraid to take a long walk for a joke. At one point a whooping snake is introduced for no reason but to be a pay off a joke further on down the line.
What is a whooping snake you ask? It’s a snake that pops up and goes “whoop”. One of them escapes and periodically throughout the film pops up and says “whoop”. All leading to a point in which Burnish after crashing his car has his lackeys search for the escaped snake. They tell him they haven’t found it yet.
The snake pops up, whoops, and disappears. One of the lackeys merely smiles and dances as he yells out, “There it is!” The others merely sigh and shake their heads. “Really Dave?”
Is it a lot of work for a joke that’s never revisited? Sure. Did I laugh? You betcha.
The humor in Abomnibale ranges from laborious pop culture references to sometimes a sly verbal wit which punctures the polite lies in adult society. Such as when Burnish talks with a man who has hit Everest with his car. “Pay for the repairs of this man’s car,” he yells as he marches off. His head henchman shows up followed by a man with a briefcase. “Consider this as compensation,” he says. The man carrying the briefcase opens it to reveal its full of money, “It’s a bribe.”
More than anything though Culton seems to want Abominable to evoke rather than tell any kind of narrative. The movie is less about getting Everest back home than it is three kids from the city being shown the marvel an wonder of nature. The restorative power taking a walk in the woods can have on both the psyche and the soul.
Abominable isn’t about answering questions. It is about inspiring them. Moments like the ones where the kids and Everest stumble upon the Leshan Giant Buddha will leave both the adults and the little ones gasping. Culton and her animators are daring the kids in the audience, and us if we’re willing to engage, to recognize something bigger than ourselves. To stand before something monumental and simply be awed by the size and age of the world around us.
Everest has the power to manipulate nature it seems. To make blueberries grow to an abnormal size and to make rolling hillsides physically and literally roll. Again, whether the other Yetis have this power is never asked or answered. He just can.
More than almost any kid’s movie in recent memory Abominable demands you go with it or stay behind. I chose to go with it and found myself at times tearing up, along with Yi, Peng, and Jin at vast and the sometimes incomparable world around them.
Yi’s grief is healed not because she and her friends went on an adventure or even because they returned a lost yeti to it’s home. Her grief isn’t cured at all. She will always miss her father. But she learns she is not the only one who misses him and by focusing on missing him she is missing the world around her which includes her mother (Michelle Wong) and Nai Nai (Tsai Chin)
Abominable is swaddled in a melancholic and expressive beauty. Culton and her animators give us an evocative movie that looks at the world with a sense of wonder in the same way kids do.