Movie Review: ‘SMALLFOOT’ – Yeti Player One
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
It takes a village to craft a multi-layered, enlightened and entertaining animated film. Many are involved in shaping its destiny and impact on the target demographic. Director Karey Kirkpatrick and Jason Reisig’s animated musical SMALLFOOT not only gets the audience’s hearts soaring and toes tapping, it also engages their intellect, delivering instantaneous, infectious joy. Bringing together live-action influences (everything from NORTH BY NORTHWEST to DR. STRANGELOVE), loving homages to Warner Brothers’ classic animation (Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng) and a sensationally satirical, modern wit makes for a thoroughly winning combination.
High atop a mountain in the Himalayas lives a secret tribe of yetis. The massive, mythical creatures live an idyllic existence, tucked away from prying human eyes. They’re blissfully unaware of most modern inventions. At least until a plane crash reveals evidence to the inquisitive Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum) that there’s life beyond the confines of their enclave. Belief in humans goes against the prophecy held by The Stonekeeper (voiced by Common), so Migo is banished until he can bring back more proof of “Smallfoot’s” existence. His quest takes him into the city below, where happenstance brings him together with Percy (voiced by James Corden), a nature documentarian whose integrity is as bankrupt as his bank account. The pair’s chance meeting could bring each of them the validation they crave. That is if the two species don’t become entangled in another misunderstanding-fueled war.
Kirkpatrick, Reisig and company have created a movie that finds massive value in the smallest, most crucial details. The sumptuous, textured world of the Yetis, though cast wall to wall in snow, is a warm, welcoming place. The saturated glow of the colorful Christmas lights pop against the snowy backdrops, as do the varying shades of the characters’ distinctive fur. There’s also a subtle similarity between their world and the humans’. The neon popping against the snow and city scape hints at their inherent common ground.
Narrative-based emotional shifts are evident in the aesthetics as well. When Migo is kicked out of his tribe, his perspective is reflected in a darker, chillier color palette. Color returns once he meets the rogue sect that believes him – the Smallfoot Evidentiary Society, fearlessly led by Meechee (voiced by Zendaya), aided by Kolka (Gina Rodriguez), Gwangi (LeBron James) and Fleem (Ely Henry). And when he’s awaken to the truth, it shifts to deeper undertones. Reverence for the craft is seen in spades. The segment where Migo is lowered down a mountainside into the thick fog harkens back to Looney-Tunes-style slapstick. Those tiny inspirations are gobs of fun to spot.
Charming characterizations and audacious, clever humor abound, but the heart is driving the adventure. Adapted from Sergio Pablos’ book Yeti Tracks, and with a story by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, Kirkpatrick and Clare Sera’s screenplay deals with heady ideas without losing any audience members. While we’re engaged with everything on a superficial level, we’re also privy to existential and abstract concepts about courage, bravery, belief, purpose and social awareness. It asks multiple questions like “who am I if not my job,” “is this all there is,” and “what’s my greater purpose?” The filmmakers make sure to emphasize that discovery and curiosity are precious commodities – fundamental qualities in child development, but also a reminder to adults. Original songs (written by Karey Kirkpatrick and brother Wayne Kirkpatrick) help tie everything together with flair, and transcend typical narrative constraints.
With a genuinely heartening message that’s never cloying or condescending, SMALLFOOT is the feel-good movie of the fall, perfect for the entire family.
SMALLFOOT opens on September 28.
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