Movie review: 'Abominable' tells yet another tale about a lost young Yeti

Fred Hawson

Posted at Oct 08 2019 03:22 PM

Movie review: 'Abominable' tells yet another tale about a lost young Yeti 1
A scene from 'Abominable.' Handout

A young Yeti was hiding from its captors on a rooftop of an apartment building in Shanghai. A practical young girl Yi found him, gained the creature's confidence and helped it with his injuries. Naming the Yeti "Everest," Yi, together with her neighbors Peng and Jin, embarked on a major journey through China to bring Everest back to his family in the Himalayas. Meanwhile, millionaire hunter Burnish and mad zoologist Dr. Zara were hot in pursuit to get the Yeti back to their possession. 

What is notable about "Abominable" was that the main human characters in this film were Asian. Furthermore, the Asian characters were voiced by Asian actors, which was remarkable. This has got to be the first time this happened since "Mulan" (1998) with Ming Na-Wen (as Mulan), BD Wong (as Li Shang), Pat Morita (as Emperor of China) and George Takei (as First Ancestor). Even then, some Chinese characters were still voiced by non-Asians, like Harvey Feinstein and Eddie Murphy. The excellent "Kubo and the Two Strings" (2016) had mainly Asian characters. but they were voiced by non-Asians, like Art Parkinson, Matthew McConnaughey, Charlize Theron and Ralph Fiennes. 

In "Abominable" though, all Asian characters were really voiced by Asians, which is a big deal on the levels of "The Joy Luck Club" and "Crazy Rich Asians." Chloe Bennet who voiced the lead character of Yi is half-Asian. All of Yi's friends and family were all voiced by Asian actors, like Albert Tsai as the boyish and playful Peng and Tenzing Norgay Trainor (namesake and grandson of the Nepalese sherpa who famously guided Sir Edmond Hillary on his historic 1953 climb up Mt. Everest) as the popular handsome kid, Jin. 

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Non-Asian actors Eddie Izzard and Sarah Paulson were also in the cast. But they were playing non-Asian characters, namely Burnish and Dr. Zarah respectively. 

In just the past 12 months, there had already been two other animated movies about the Yeti -- "Smallfoot" (by Warner) and "Missing Link" (by Laika). This latest film by Dreamworks Animation (in partnership with Chinese film company Pearl Studios) which also featured another version of the abominable snowman felt like something too much too soon. Its release as the third in a series of films tackling basically the same story line about a Yeti finding his way back to his home was its big disadvantage. "Abominable" is a madcap adventurous road trip for kids with the promise of an emotional story of homecoming, but it really tread on very familiar grounds. 

The filmmakers innovate the common story line by giving Everest magical powers which gave this movie some pretty and playful visuals, like giant blueberries rolling around meadows, and giant dandelion seedheads floating overhead. They also gave Yi the talent of playing the violin, which gave this movie some stirring musical moments of wordless poignancy and pathos. 

However, these brief occasional moments of animated beauty eventually give way to wacky chases and juvenile comedy that ultimately brought the whole film back down to regular levels.

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."