Abominable is an adorable if somewhat derivative animated adventure in which a group of kids journey through China in an effort to return their Yeti friend to his home atop Mount Everest — a storyline that makes sense considering the film is a co-production between America’s DreamWorks Animation and China’s Pearl Studio, and has therefore been fine-tuned to appeal to both markets. But while the kids are likable and the Yeti impossibly cute, this tale has been told countless times before, and oftentimes in more engaging fashion.That’s a shame as Abominable starts encouragingly enough, kicking off with a first-person action sequence that cleverly prolongs the reveal of the Yeti; it’s the first of many visually arresting sequences that breathe real life into Abominable. We then meet Yi (voiced by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. star Chloe Bennett), a plucky but melancholy teen who spends her every spare moment working odd jobs. Yi is saving up to embark on the trip she had planned with her father before he passed away. But as the story progresses, it becomes clear that there’s more to Yi’s efforts to fill her time, and thereby avoid being around both her mother and grandmother. (Though it’s hard to know why regarding the latter, as Yi’s diminutive Nan is hilarious, constantly cooking pork buns, popping up when you least expect her, and delivering wicked one-liners whenever she’s onscreen.)
Watch the trailer for Abominable below:
In a moment of reflection after yet another family argument, Yi heads to the roof of her building to play the violin, a musical passion she shared with her Dad. There she crosses paths with the furry monster, and while initially terrified of each other, the pair quickly bond over music, and Yi is soon helping the Yeti make his escape. The creature is a truly stunning technical achievement, with luscious fur, expressive eyes, and a goofy grin. A kid himself, he possesses the personality of a playful dog, grunts and growls like the 1977 Pete’s Dragon, and is as endearing as anything DreamWorks has yet committed to film.
Yi figures out his home is on Mount Everest, somewhat confusingly names him Everest, and soon enough the pair are traversing across the continent, with two of Yi’s friends in tow. It’s the ET story template, and the similarities don’t end there. Everest has a mysterious connection with his surroundings, and is able to harness the power of nature. But wherein the Steven Spielberg classic that amounts to bringing a plant back to life, here it inspires several spectacular action sequences, involving giant blueberries, flying dandelions, and a stunning tsunami of canola flowers.
To add some jeopardy to their journey, they are being hunted by aging explorer Burnish and his scientist assistant Dr. Zara. Burnish – who is English and therefore diabolical – wants to possess everything beautiful that nature has to offer. Burnish believes Everest (the Yeti, not the mountain) to be the most important discovery of the century, has plans to unveil him before the eyes of the world, and will stop at nothing to capture the creature. And as voiced by Eddie Izzard, he’s also the funniest character in Abominable.
Unfortunately, that’s about it in terms of plot, the film hitting predictable story beats for the remainder of its run-time. The details that do set Abominable apart from the competition are the stunning locations and unusual musical choices. The adventurers travel across the Gobi Desert and over the Himalayas, fresh destinations for an animated movie and both beautifully rendered by the animators at DreamWorks and Pearl.
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The score, meanwhile, is simply stunning, with Yi’s violin solos unquestionably the film’s highlights, most notably a performance in front of the Leshan Giant Buddha that unexpectedly merges with Coldplay’s Fix You, and proves to be a moving accompaniment to the beautiful images onscreen.
If only the rest of the film took chances like that. But writer and co-director Jill Culton – who cut her teeth on Monsters Inc. before directing Open Season – plays it pretty safe for the majority of Abominable, choosing predictable paths for her characters rather than challenging them – and the audience – with anything more sophisticated or complex.