In the film Smallfoot, Yetis live on a secluded mountaintop protected from outsiders by a ring of clouds surrounding the summit. Stories passed down from older generations form the basis of their laws and beliefs — one of which is that their home is all that exists and nothingness lies beneath them. One yeti, Migo, can’t wait to take his place in society. When he gets a chance to try out his future job he jumps at the chance. But a mishap sends him to the edge of his world where he comes face to face with the mythical smallfoot — also known as a human. His world is shaken, and even more so when he is banished for refusing to recant his story.
Be aware up front that this review, unlike almost all my others, is a bit spoilery. I’m not going to give away actual story details, but there is a facet of the plot I have to mention that those (like me) who prefer to go into a movie not knowing too much would probably rather not hear. Again, not giving away story, more how part of the plot was implemented.
Two things leapt out at me within the first five minutes of this movie. One, it is absurdly cheerful and upbeat, almost sickeningly so at points! Second, it’s a musical?! I don’t watch every trailer because, like I said earlier, I don’t like to be spoiled. But it still seems like I should have seen this coming from the marketing of the film! The first several songs are slickly produced and if you let them waft over you seem pleasant enough. But the lyrics are so simplistic and hackneyed to the point of being a little embarrassing.
The plot moves at a fairly rapid pace. Soon enough we’re also introduced to a group of yeti conspiracy theorists who believe Migo’s claims and then a tv host trying to revive his career. Again, all these characters, situations, and interactions are fairly by the numbers if not even a bit banal.
Let’s move ahead to the spoilery bit! A little over half way through the film, in a scene that knocked me for a loop, the tone suddenly gets dark — and a lot more interesting. Migo, who has already had his world turned upside down has it flipped again. The animation here is beautiful, the music Oscar-worthy, and the twist (while not completely unforeseen by the audience) so well down in-story to make you doubt everything you thought about the film prior to this scene. Was the first half of the film sickeningly sweet and clichéd as a plot device setting up this scene? Maybe! And if so they might have actually done too good a job. Nothing that follows this scene tops it, but the storyline does become more focused and meaningful.
The overall effect is a film that feels disjointed, but in a weird, almost satisfying way if you take time to think about it!
Smallfoot is from the studio that brought us Storks, a film I absolutely loved. So going in I had high expectations about the humor. Unfortunately, I was hugely letdown. There are a few laughs but hardly none of the -out-loud variety. That may be down to the fact that so much of the first half of the film seems aimed more at the preschool crowd and by the time we realize what’s really going on things have shifted away from being able to be too humorous.
The animation is par for the course but, while occasionally fun, not incredibly interesting. The design of the yetis (other than Migo and the Stonekeeper) felt boring. However a lot of the character movement animation was much more enjoyable.
Voice acting was a mixed bag. I never unheard Channing Tatum as the lead character, but he did do a fine job. James Corden, while never bad, is becoming a little too overused in animated films. At first I felt Common was an odd choice as the Stonekeeper, but by the time his song cue came I was on board! Zendaya is Meechee. I’m a fan but she wasn’t well utilized and didn’t really stand out in the role.
So where do I come down on Smallfoot in the end? I’m still not sure! It’s really hard to look past the first half of the film where I hardly felt engaged at all. But that turning point scene was a showstopper! And it completely made me reassess what had come before. While the rest of the film didn’t maintain that scene’s high, it did make everything a lot more interesting. And it’s impressive that a movie like this can have you still thinking about it after the credits roll. That’s no small feat.
Warner Animation Group
September 28, 2018
directed by Karey Kirkpatrick