‘Abominable’ May Not Break New Ground, but the Kids Will Have Fun
DreamWorks Animation’s latest fantastical adventure, “Abominable,” settles into a marvelous sense of imagination and wonder once the characters begin their epic journey. However, its sweeping power wears off when the charm of the physical comedy does, and the action scenes care more about showing off glossy imagery than having any sort of coherence. But at least it’s warm and cuddly incoherence.
Kids will have a lot of fun with “Abominable”and the adults in the audience will likely be charmed with chuckle here and there. A mishmash of many different family film tropes, DreamWorks newest attempt to repeat their “How To Train Your Dragon” success never fully distinguishes itself despite having gorgeous locations to bring to life, and a magic system with much potential to mine from that can seem wasted in favor of awe and spectacle.
The film opens with a POV prison break that feels like the opening level of a video game. Our Abominable Snowman (Joseph Izzo) escapes from an experimental facility, fleeing through Shanghai’s jungle of asphalt, shiny lights and skyscrapers. After safely getting away from his captors, the snowy beast catches sight of a bright Mount Everest billboard from a rooftop while resting and recovering. A hard-working girl named Yi (Chloe Bennet) likes to escape to a private hideaway at the top of the same roof, where she stashes money she’s saving for a trip across China, secretly playing symphonies to the city with her violin.
After luring the frightened yeti out — using her Nai Nai’s pork buns instead of Reese’s Pieces — Yi names the adorable beast Everest, resolving to help the injured animal make his way home after realizing he is being hunted by a military organization, run by a mysterious robed man, named Burnish (Eddie Izzard), who leans on an icepick instead of a walking stick, and Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson), a zoologist donning a fake British accent. Both feel like villains out of the “Paddington” series. Of course, no family adventure is best taken alone, and two of Yi’s neighbors, the young basketball obsessed Peng (Albert Tsai) and sneaker savant pretty-boy Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor), accompany her and Everest on their journey to the Himalayas. Constantly being pursued by Burnish, Zara and their henchman, the trio discover that Everest has some sort of mystical singing ability. Whenever he hums a certain hymn — a baritone that recalls the Dwarven Misty Mountain ballad from Peter Jacksons’ “The Hobbit” series — the mythological creature is able to manipulate the laws of nature using his magic.
All the scenes where Everest displays his powers are gorgeously rendered, but they’re also so limitless in their potential that all story stakes go out the window. After a slow-motion chase scene involving giant blueberries it’s difficult to take the life and death situations seriously. Something in an action scene will incapacitate a henchman but won’t even phase the other characters. If “Abominable” had better established rules and limitations for its boundless imaginings, the set pieces would have greatly benefitted. Physics are often tossed aside in animated films in favor of movie magic, but movie magic can still be consistent.
The greatest strength of “Abominable” is its cultural viewpoint. The heart of the movie is in the right place and the quieter character moments have some pointed observations. But whenever the film reaches for mythological heights — when you can feel both the score and visuals forcibly swelling — the ambition falls short of imagination. The movie may not break new ground as a family film, but at its human core the message is still snug and cozy.
“Abominable” opens Sept. 27 in theaters nationwide.