I remember coming into the tail end of Steven Spielberg’s first big run from 1975’s Jaws to 1982’s E.T. The Extra Terrestrial which also included the first Indiana Jones film and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (sorry 1941 I can still only enjoy you in small doses) there came a slew of films trying to ape his style from 1985’s King Solomon’s Mines to 1988’s Mac and Me. Some would argue that both filmmakers and studios are looking to capture that similar magic from way back then. One of the modern equivalents to this phenomenon is Pixar Studios. After Toy Story the game was indeed changed as even the direct to video and streaming animated films are made not with the 2-D drawings of Disney old, but with CG films that even the Mouse House has fully embraced as well, though most animated films from anywhere rarely meet the standard that Pixar created almost 25 years ago. The latest from Dreamworks Animation Abominable tries to cement itself among the classics from the studio that brought us Shrek and How to Train Your Dragon.
Yi (Chloe Bennet) is a hard working young girl with dreams of exploring her country of China like her dad wanted to do before he died. But being so busy with odd jobs in her apartment complex she has little time for her mom and grandmother who only want the best for her. Yi also has no time for her former friends and neighbors Peng (Albert Tsai) and Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) who themselves, are lost in their own little worlds. When the three kids encounter a Yeti that has escaped from a secret lab, they are forced on the run to help the now named Everest (Joseph Izzo) get back to his home in the Himalayas. Hot on their trail is Everest’s captors, an explorer named Burnish (Eddie Izzard) and Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson) who will stop at nothing to get their hands on the mythical creature.
Abominable attempts to fit right in with the ‘kids with a creature’ features, like The Iron Giant, Big Hero Six, Up, and the afore mentioned E.T.. It keeps things simple from both a plot perspective as well as its themes. It does rely way too much on the undefined “powers” of Everest as they only seem to appear when it’s convenient for the story in order to get the group out of a tough situation. It certainly wears its tremendous heart on its sleeve which is usually the fault of most animated films, but works out for the most part here. There are a few unexpected twists that keep things interesting with a the script by Jill Culton who has worked for Pixar with a story credit for Monsters Inc., and directed Open Season, does both here along with co-director Todd Wilderman who has done most of his work in animation as well.
The voice cast is really hit or miss though, the most unfortunate being Bennet as Yi, who comes off sounding much like Rihanna did in 2015’s Home, way to grown up for the age she appears to be. Everyone else holds their own, but the real star is the brilliant animation. If you can say one positive from everyone going CG in animated films, some look spectacular. Abominable is indeed one of those where its breathtaking visuals and sweet moments make up for the story’s shortcomings. And while the film is flat out adorable and funny, it doesn’t accomplish much else to make it memorable. In the end it lacks the unique and boldness of some of Dreamworks previous films like the underrated Puss and Boots, and fits more into the vein of Mastermind, as it will be on regular rotation in your kids library as long as it is streaming on Netflix, but forgotten as soon as its dropped.