'Smallfoot': Film Review

Makes an engaging impression.
9/28/2018

Yetis and humans find a colorful common ground in this animated comedy voiced by Channing Tatum, Common and LeBron James.

While it only occasionally rises to the clever levels of its inspired jump-off point, Smallfoot, an animated romp about a civilization of Yetis who make the discovery that the legendary pint-size human isn’t a mythological creature after all, carries sufficient charm and a bit of unexpected depth to justify its breezy existence.

Based on the book Yeti Tracks by animator Sergio Pablos, the CG-production is further enlivened by an off-the-beaten-path voice cast that includes Channing Tatum, Common and LeBron James, and some Looney Tunes-laced physical comedy that helps compensate for the forgettable Disney-wannabe original songs that fall short of the intended mark.

Given the slim pickings in the family-oriented market these days, the Warner Animation Group offering should see its extensive marketing (including a pop-up Yeti Village attraction at the corner of Hollywood and Vine) pay off with sizable returns.

Things start off fittingly animatedly in the Himalayan village perched above the clouds where exuberant Migo (Tatum) cavorts with his fellow 18-foot hairy denizens — the majority of whom have been content to live their lives according to the laws inscribed in stones curated by Stonekeeper (Common).

But Migo’s accepting ways — and ultimately those of his devoted father (Danny DeVito) — are put into question when he crosses paths with an actual hairless smallfoot in the human form of Percy (James Corden), an animal TV show host who initially seizes upon the encounter as his ticket to the big time.

For Migo and his friends, Meechee (Zendaya), Gwangi (James) and Kolka (Gina Rodriguez), who had already formed the clandestine S.E.S., or Smallfoot Evidentiary Society, the discovery throws the community’s long-held belief system into turmoil, despite Stonekeeper’s well-intentioned efforts to keep the creatures shielded from the dangerous outside world.

Those themes of enlightenment and the questioning of previously accepted institutions would seem to be pretty tall orders in a kid’s movie, but director Karey Kirkpatrick (Over the Hedge), working from a script co-written with Clare Sera (Blended), for the most part manages to avoid getting preachy.

Instead the messages are woven into the film’s fabric — one that contains a hefty portion of visual comedy bits that closely adhere to the Wile E. Coyote school of pain management. Those lively sequences are infinitely preferable to the generic song sequences clearly straining for “Let It Go” (if only they would have) heights — several of which were penned by the director and his brother Wayne Kirkpatrick, including the opening number “Perfection,” with a refrain that sounds uncomfortably like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “You’re Welcome” from Moana.

The one notable exception is the energetic, rap-infused “Let It Lie,” authoritatively performed by Common, who, along with fellow castmates Tatum, Corden, Zendaya and new Los Angeles Laker James in his animated movie debut, keep their characters uniformly engaging.

Also quite pleasing is the production’s visual palette, which takes its cue from those cloud-enshrouded snowy Himalayan vistas, coating all that fully dimensional Yeti hair with frosted hues of grays, whites and violets.

Production companies: Warner Animation Group, Zaftig Films
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Cast: Channing Tatum, James Corden, Zendaya, Common, LeBron James, Danny DeVito, Gina Rodriguez
Director: Karey Kirkpatrick
Screenwriters: Karey Kirkpatrick, Clare Sera
Producers: Bonne Radford, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Executive producers: Nicholas Stoller, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Jared Stern, Karey Kirkpatrick, Sergio Pablos, Courtenay Valenti, Allison Abbate
Production designer: Ron Kurniawan
Editor: Peter Ettinger
Music: Heitor Pereira
Casting director: Ruth Lambert

Rated PG, 96 minutes