Just about everything about Smallfoot is, well, small. This modest animated adventure from co-directors Karey Kirkpatrick (Over the Hedge) and Jason Reisig play it very safe. Its lack of ambition however probably won’t matter to school holiday moviegoers.
The idea behind the movie is interesting, but the directors and screenwriters don’t really take it anywhere. The ending is predictable, and the journey to get there isn’t all that exciting. But its heart is definitely in the right place, and I’m sure kids will warm to its messages; which boil down to “scepticism can be healthy” and “give everyone a chance”.
Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum) is a young yeti living in an advanced yeti society high in the Himalayas. His father Dorgle (Danny DeVito) works as the village’s “chief gong ringer”. According to yeti lore, the Sun is a giant glowing snail that needs to be woken every morning. Dorgle must fling himself by catapult into a giant gong to do just that. It’s just one of the dozens of yeti truisms held by the inscrutable Stonekeeper (Common) in the form of stone tablets.
These tablets prescribe every aspect of yeti life. But rebellion is in the air. Meechee (Zendaya) and a few friends have formed the S.E.S – the Smallfoot Evidentiary Society. They believe yetis aren’t alone in the world, and that small-footed humans also exist. When Migo tries his hand at gong-ringing, things don’t go according to plan. He veers wildly off course, and lands on the other side of the mountain. But there he encounters a “smallfoot” – the pilot of a crashed plane. His discovery will change everything in yeti society.
The set-up for Smallfoot is really clever. But then the movie stalls thanks largely to a bizarre decision to introduce songs into the mix. These mostly stop the plot dead. But just when you think it’s going to be Frozen-with-yetis, the songs stop. So it’s kind of half a musical. Weird.
Smallfoot also dips its toes in the world of online “stardom” and the influence of social media through the character of Percy (James Corden), a David Attenborough wannabe who’s trying for a comeback. This aspect works pretty well, although Percy’s phone seems to have the world’s greatest range and longest battery life.
The film generally looks great, as you’d expect. The animated rendering of the yeti village is amazingly detailed. A chase through the streets of a (human) town is brilliantly done. But I couldn’t warm to the yetis themselves. They look simplistic; and a lack of variation meant it was sometimes difficult to tell one yeti character from another.
Smallfoot hits many of the right notes, but with the occasional false step. I many ways though, it’s perfect school holiday fare. It will entertain and maybe even enlighten kids. For adults, it’s an interesting but almost instantly forgettable diversion.
Director: Karey Kirkpatrick, Jason Reisig
Cast: (Voices of) Channing Tatum, Zendaya, James Corden, Danny DeVito, Common
Release Date: 20 September 2018
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television