Chloe Bennet plays Yi, a violin prodigy who finds a friend in the process of trying to escape her grief. Photograph from IMDb
Culture Movies

Review: ‘Abominable’ is visually resplendent but dwarfs its most precious gift

It could have given an equally special treatment to its character Yi who is grieving the death of her father.
Andrew Paredes | Oct 03 2019

Directed by Jill Culton

Starring Chloe Bennet, Sarah Paulson, Eddie Izzard

The good news is, Abominable isn’t abominable…it’s just a tad unmemorable. It’s a Chinese-American animated fable with a travelogue embedded in it that is so beautifully rendered, you don’t know whether the filmmakers were hoping to cash in on the pride of patriotic mainland Chinese moviegoers, or meet the requirements of some Chinese tourist board.

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Yi goes on a cros-country trip with her downstairs neighbors Peng (Albert Tsai) and Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor).

The premise is one you’ve seen many times before: A teenager named Yi (winningly voiced by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Chloe Bennet), living in an unspecified megalopolis that resembles Shanghai, encounters a yeti that has recently escaped from an egomaniacal explorer (Eddie Izzard) and seemingly conscientious zoologist (Sarah Paulson). Naming the mythical creature Everest and sussing out that the furry behemoth is actually a kid, Yi goes on a cross-country trek to return Everest to his home in the Himalayas with her downstairs neighbors—squeaky-voiced basketball player wannabe Peng (Albert Tsai) and vain dreamboat Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor)—along for the adventure. Oh, and Everest has the power to manipulate nature too: When he closes his eyes and hums a basso profundo, Everest can make fields of flowers rise up like storm-driven waves and blueberries swell to the size of cannonballs. He’s like E.T. on steroids.

Produced by Dreamworks, Abominable is directed by Jill Culton and Todd 
Wilderman.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial isn’t the only callback you’ll probably identify; there’s King Kong, Ferdinand, and The Shape of Water, too. And never mind that last year’s Smallfoot got to the abominable snowman premise first, or that this year’s Missing Link employed the road trip plot device to more charming, less repetitive effect. Everest is a ready-made plush toy of a character, and the environments—whether it’s a small riverside town or a brief interlude in the Gobi desert or a giant Buddha carved into a Sichuan mountainside during the Tang Dynasty—are rendered so panoramically, it bears saying again that Abominable deserves a tourist certification.

The problem is, all this sweeping splendor dwarfs what may be the film’s most intriguing creation: the vaguely alienated Yi. Still grieving the death of her violinist father, Yi has been taking odd jobs around the city ostensibly to save money for visits to all the places in the postcards her touring father sent back home. But really, she’s inventing excuses not to process her sorrow with her worried mother (Michelle Wong) and diminutive grandmother (The Joy Luck Club’s Tsai Chin).

An erstwhile violin prodigy, Yi occasionally plays the violin to vent her sadness, and it is in these wordless moments that Abominable displays its heart most unabashedly, almost saying something about the cleansing powers of mourning. But it’s an almost-profound message buried under the drift of visual spectacle. And chances are, once you leave the theater, Abominable will disappear like a yeti retreating into a blizzard, too.

 

Photographs from IMDb