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With: Channing Tatum, James Corden, Zendaya, Common, LeBron James, Danny DeVito, Gina Rodriguez, Yara Shahidi, Ely Henry, Jimmy Tatro, Patricia Heaton, Justin Roiland, Jack Quaid, Sarah Baker (voices)
Written by: Karey Kirkpatrick, Clare Sera, based on a story by John Requa, Glenn Ficarra, Karey Kirkpatrick, Sergio Pablos
Directed by: Karey Kirkpatrick, Jason Reisig
MPAA Rating: PG for some action, rude humor, and thematic elements
Running Time: 96
Date: 09/28/2018
IMDB

Smallfoot (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Yeti As She Goes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The trailers for the new computer-animated, kid-friendly Smallfoot, which opens Friday in Bay Area theaters, were unpromising, and the yeti heroes — with their noseless faces and flared-out legs that resembled bell-bottoms — were initially unappealing.

Happily, the actual film is surprisingly smart, and in its longer form, the characters quickly grow to be quite lovable.

This same fate befell Steven Spielberg's delightful The BFG; too many judged that movie by its cover and it became the biggest flop in the great director's career. Here's hoping the same does not happen to Smallfoot.

On the surface, the story of Smallfoot is simple, and perhaps not entirely original (it's similar to Monsters, Inc.), but well-told. A community of yetis live on top of a mountain, protected from the world below by a ring of clouds.

They hold a series of beliefs that are made into laws; they are etched into stone and worn on a long cloak by their leader, The Stone Keeper (voiced by Common).

Most yetis have the daily job of cutting and feeding ice to the "elephants" that are holding up the mountain, but our hero Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum) is training for another job: to each morning ring the huge gong that wakes up the great sky snail (i.e. the sun) for its daily crawl across the sky.

Migo happily follows the laws of the land and cheerfully sings about not asking questions. That is, until an accident puts him in contact with a "smallfoot," a human, upsetting the laws of the land. He discovers that a group of his fellow yeti — led by the Stone Keeper's daughter Meechee (voiced by Zendaya) — are part of a secret society of question-askers, seeking the truth about the world below.

Meanwhile, the host of a TV animal show, Percy Patterson (voiced by James Corden, thankfully making up for his dismal Peter Rabbit movie), is looking for a ratings boost. In seeking the mythical yeti, he discovers that they are more than just monsters to be exploited for showbiz.

Comically, the humans and yetis can't speak to one another; the humans hear yeti voices as fearsome roars, and humans sound like squeaky little chipmunks. They must learn to communicate through other means.

So this story is a thin cover for a strong message about, yes, asking questions and not putting blind faith in old, intolerant rules that have been set down generations ago. It's also a message about being open to those who look different, rather than automatically fearing them.

In this movie the "wall" of clouds between the different communities doesn't keep anyone in or out, and everyone is better off interacting with and learning from one another.

The messages here are far from heavy-handed, yet they are bold enough that young ones can have the pleasure of picking up on them without being told what to look for.

The swooping visual simplicity of the yetis may distract from just how complex the animation really is. The inner workings of the yeti community contains a myriad of dazzling moving parts, a slapstick sequence with Migo crashing into the human world is nearly as good as a Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner cartoon, and a climatic chase through the dark woods — lit by the harsh, high-contrast headlamps of snowmobiles — is amazing.

The movie contains its share of juvenile jokes (like a repeating one about a yak's butt), but also a range of wise jokes for grateful adults.

The musical numbers come in an array of styles, and Common's sinister, logical rap song about why the stones are necessary to protect the yetis, is a brazen highlight.

A variety of talents worked on Smallfoot; the co-writers of Bad Santa, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, are story writers and producers, The Lego Movie masterminds Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are co-producers, and co-writer/co-director Karey Kirkpatrick's career goes all the way back to Disney's The Rescuers Down Under and includes writing on James and the Giant Peach and Chicken Run.

This combo's work adds up to a joyous, spirited film. It is indeed a "message movie" of sorts, but a message about kindness and curiosity triumphing over fear and ignorance is one worth re-hearing.

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