Review: Abominable

DreamWorks Animation has grossed over $15 billion worldwide from it’s 37 theatrical releases and is widely known for its franchises Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon. With only two years missing on the release schedule for a DreamWorks film in it’s 21-year run and all but four films considered “financially successful,” the studio is a powerhouse of the modern era behind only Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar (now owned by Disney). And its no wonder, their animation is beautiful and their characters comedic and heartwarming, and all are once again on display in Abominable. This story is not only wonderfully fresh with its original intellectual property (IP) in a year riddled with animated live action re-makes and sequels, but also for the heavy focus on Chinese culture and handling of grief in a film about helping a mythical creature find his way home. I recommend taking the time to see this one, whether in the theatre or in the comfort of your home, as Abominable is a surprisingly solid four-quadrant, family movie.
Yi is a teenage girl filling the void her recently deceased father left with busywork: dog walking, babysitting, and even taking out trash. Although she lives with her mom and “nai nai” (grandma) who desperately want to feel like a family again, Yi’s focus is lost on saving up money to make the trip of a lifetime to all the Chinese wonders her father wished for them to visit. But her dream is interrupted when one evening she wanders up to her rooftop hideout and finds a young, wounded Yeti. Having recently escaped captivity, Everest is being hunted by his captors who want him back to be put on display, but it’s clear that all he wants is to go home. Sucked into an adventure along with two neighbor boys, Jin and Peng, Yi works to keep Everest safe and stay one step ahead of the hunters as they head for the Himalayan Mountains, only to discover that there is more than meets the eye with their new yeti friend whose magical abilities breathe fascinating life into the world around them.
Set in a world of fantasy, this movie doesn’t discount the impossible and rather takes advantage by leaning into it. For example, not only do yetis exist but their magic can grow fields of flowers across barren stone and turn clouds into koi fish swimming through the sky. Everest has an amazing connection to nature and represents Chinese beliefs about harmony and the influence of the natural world. Although given many opportunities to show his strength through violence, not once does he get angry but instead rests in his ability to accomplish what needs to be done through a meditation-like state of humming, referencing elements of the widely-practiced Chinese religions of Buddhism and Taoism. In addition to these deep-seeded meanings of the character, he also possesses childlike humor and energy that are fun to watch on screen and help him to quickly make friends with the slightly younger Peng. The familial bond shared between the characters through their bickering and adventuring slowly moves from wanting what’s best for themselves to wanting what’s best for each other as they get closer and closer to Everest’s home.
The colors and artistic style of this American/Chinese animated folk tale set it apart from other DreamWorks films but also fall right in line with some of the most recent attempts from Disney and Pixar to incorporate more culture into animation (e.g. Moana and Coco). The story is cute and even includes couple story twists along the way, but the true marvel lies with the lesson learned: The journey with Everest provides Yi the reminder that her own journey through life didn’t end with the loss of her dad, but rather continues on alongside her family and friends. Our lost loved ones live on with us in different ways, for Yi it is when she plays her father’s violin that she is most reminded of the life that was lost but also of the love that she felt and continues to feel.
Like I said, this movie was really good. It wasn’t a huge standout for me like Coco or a mega hit at the box office like most recent animated Disney films, but it was worth seeing and I recommend adding this one to your list, especially if you have kids. I have tickets purchased to see Zombieland 2: Double Tap this Friday night and am keeping a close eye on release dates for the smaller films in my area. Let me know if you saw Abominable and what you thought, or if there are any other films releasing soon that you are excited to see. Thanks for reading, cheers!

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