‘Smallfoot’ Teaches Kids to Challenge the Status Quo

In the era of fake news and extreme political divide, critical thinking is an important weapon. The power of knowledge is something especially important to impress upon children, and the charming animated comedy “Smallfoot,” a twist on the old legend of Bigfoot does just that. Channing Tatum voices Migo, a loveable young yeti living in an isolated society set atop the Himalayas where the rules are literally set in stone. Our hero’s sheltered existence is forever change while he is training with his father, Dorgle (Danny DeVito), to take over his role of the resident gong ringer, a job that entails throwing oneself at a gond every morning in order to wake the sun. After he overshoots and hurls over a mountain, Migo encounters the mysterious creature known as the Smallfoot, a.k.a. Percy Patterson (James Corden), who we come to learn is the famous human host of a popular nature program. Percy manages to get away, but both man and yeti leave this encounter hungry to know more, thus beginning a journey of growth and discovery.

Migos excitedly goes off to tell his fellow yetis about his discovery, only to be banished by the Stonekeeper (Common), the leader of the community. The Stonekeeper’s word is law, and most of the other yetis accept without questions the “facts” inscribed on the stones he guards. A lot of humor comes from these “backwards” beliefs, such as they were pooped from the butt of the great sky yak, that their mountain sits on the backs of many woolly mammoths, below which there is vast nothingness, and that the sun is a big snail. One doesn’t have to dig deep to make connections between yeti society and our real world, especially after Migo joins up with a resistance of sorts, led by none other than the Stonekeeper’s own daughter, Meechee (Zendaya). Together with Kolka (Gina Rodriguez), Gwangi (LeBron James) and Fleem (Ely Henry), the intellectually curious Meechee secretly questions her father’s stories and works to discover what’s below the clouds. With her encouragement, Migo sets out to find the smallfoot.

Migo manages to locate Percy outside a village bar, and after a scuffle, the human willingingly goes along with this humongous creature, his goal being to get footage he needs to get the ratings he so desperately needs. As anyone who works in unscripted TV would confess, so much of it is staged, but Percy is unscrupulous even by the standards of his field, as he tries to talk his producer, the more principled Brenda (Yara Shahidi), into impersonating a yeti.

What comes next is a tale about how fear and ignorance can lead to distrust and conflict. This may sound heavy for a film made for children, but the story is told in such a way that they understand, full of humor and scenes in which the characters find themselves at crossroads. The Stonekeeper is more than a power-crazed dictator, as we come to learn, his rules, as silly and insane as they may seem, exist for very important reasons. Should Migo respect this, or should he challenge the status quo in hopes of building a better world? This is something all humans have to deal with at some point or another, so it’s never too early for children to learn the lessons that Migo learns here.

The soundtrack of “Smallfoot” also deserves praise, not only for the catchy songs, which included Percy’s fun “Carpool Karaoke” inspired version of “Under Pressure,” but also the clever way the vast difference in size between the humans and the yetis is shown. When the humans are shown through a yeti’s POV, their speaking voices sound like nonsensical squeaking; likewise, the yetis’ attempts to communicate to human ears sounds like scary growling.

Smallfoot” opens nationwide Sept. 28.