REVIEW: Abominable [2019]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: PG | Runtime: 97 minutes | Release Date: September 27th, 2019 (USA)
Studio: DreamWorks Animation / Universal Pictures
Director(s): Jill Culton / Todd Wilderman (co-director)
Writer(s): Jill Culton

“Dude. You darted Dave.”

Writer/director Jill Culton started production on Abominable in 2010 before eventually leaving the project and ultimately coming back on-board. Still retaining sole writing credit, I have to believe Dreamsworks stayed true to her original narrative vision during those years when she was away. Maybe they fiddled with things to hew closer to a proven formula (the plot similarities to the studio’s How to Train Your Dragon are many) or perhaps parallels to that 2010 release were always present considering the close proximity of their respective geneses. Either way the final result transcends any such conventions as its locale, character design, and wholesome messaging rise above to allow it to escape easy comparisons. After all: love, friendship, and home are the backbone of most children’s fare.

The film opens with a first-person escape as Everest the yeti (Joseph Izzo) travels through the hallways of a Shanghai-based laboratory run by Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson) and owned by Mr. Burnish (Eddie Izzard). His cell was somehow left open, his fear of the unknown powerful enough to burst through a closing gate and magically charge himself up so a glowing light emanates through his fur when leaping above an electrified fence to jump building to building in search of shelter. Fate has his final destination be the apartment complex where Yi (Chloe Bennet) lives with Mom (Michelle Wong) and Nai Nai (Tsai Chin). Still unable to cope with the untimely death of her father, she isolates herself from the rest of her family with a rooftop hideaway.

So here we have two lost children—one physically from his Himalayan mountain peak and the other emotionally from the man who taught her how to live adventurously. Even though they don’t speak a common language, they both recognize the pain weighing them down. Vowing to do whatever it takes to help the other out, Yi and Everest find themselves on the run from Burnish’s security fleet of armored tanks and helicopters. She thinks her display of empathy is singular considering he’s the one in danger, but he’s not too scared to pay attention to her plight and work towards solving it in the background of their chase across mainland China. The first step is stowing away on a commercial barge leaving town, excitement and uncertainty taking hold.

They aren’t alone, however, as young Peng (Albert Tsai) and his materialistic older cousin Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) tag along. The former became instantly enamored with Everest while the latter couldn’t ignore the nagging sense of responsibility to keep Peng safe. Jin is the wet blanket of the group—forever playing things safe to maintain an image of success regardless of whether or not the path forward is what he craves. He’s the opposite of Yi’s jump first and figure things out later mindset despite them having a much closer relationship when they were younger. He’s readying to attend college in Beijing to become a doctor while she’s saving money to travel everywhere her dad hoped to take her. And Peng is just happy to have some fun.

Their journey is full of memorable set pieces whether born from Burnish and Zara’s pursuit or Everest’s ability to speak with nature and grow giant blueberries or surf fields of grass. The yeti performs his magic with a low hum that Yi matches on her father’s violin to sprout new gardens of beauty wherever they go. It culminates in a soulful melody (strangely augmented by Coldplay‘s “Fix You”) that gives them a sense of control and healing spirit to combat the escalating aggression (albeit by bumbling foot soldiers) of their adversaries. Whether Dr. Zara hopes to protect Everest upon recapturing him or not, the kids won’t be able to live with themselves unless they watch him disappear into the snow of his home. Their makeshift family won’t quit.

And that is the lesson at its core: family isn’t dictated by genetics. The way Everest will protect the kids and vice versa shows something that moves beyond the selfishness of notoriety and financial gain that drives Burnish and Zara respectively. But there’s also the kids themselves and how age has pushed them apart. As Yi and Jin gravitated towards different lifestyles, their friendship gradually faded away. With those two growing up to take on more adult responsibilities, Peng discovers they have less time to play with him. The beauty of an adventure focusing on someone else somewhere else is the reality that those excuses become moot. They can now dive underneath the façades of survival and conformity to regain the joy that used to bind them.

Distance also reminds them of what they’ve been taking for granted. A lack of it reminds Jin how good a friend Yi is away from his phone and fawning girlfriends and an abundance of it gets Yi to realize her father’s death didn’t leave her an orphan. It’s her grief that pushes those who love her like Mom and Nai Nai to the fringes in order to pursue a dream that she refuses to adjust for the tragedy. Everest therefore serves as an unexpected catalyst for her to escape her head and open her eyes from the tunnel vision that’s ruled her too long. By returning him home, Yi can begin understanding that she never lost hers. It may look different, but it’s still right there.


photography:
[1] (from left) – Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor), Peng (Albert Tsai) and Yi (Chloe Bennet) with Everest in DreamWorks Animation and Pearl Studio’s “Abominable,” written and directed by Jill Culton. Credit: © 2019 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS and PEARL STUDIO. All Rights Reserved.
[2] (from left) Yi (Chloe Bennet), her mother (Michelle Wong) and grandmother, Nai Nai (Tsai Chin) in DreamWorks Animation and Pearl Studio’s “Abominable,” written and directed by Jill Culton. Credit: © 2019 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS and PEARL STUDIO. All Rights Reserved.
[3] (from left) Yi (Chloe Bennet), Peng (Albert Tsai) and Everest in DreamWorks Animation and Pearl Studio’s “Abominable,” written and directed by Jill Culton. Credit: © 2019 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS and PEARL STUDIO. All Rights Reserved.

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