Abominable (2019)

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When she discovers a Yeti on the roof of her apartment, Shanghai teenager Yi decides to return him to his Himalayan home. So she sets off with her neighbors, Jin and Peng, to reunite their furry white friend with his family. But their journey won’t be an easy one, as there is a crazed billionaire who wants to capture the Yeti hot on their trail. 

On the surface, Abominable sounds like movies you’ve seen before. You’ve got a young person, reeling from the death of a parent, discovering a supernatural creature in their home, and defending said creature from the government and/or a private corporation. That’s the basic plot of ET, The Iron Giant, and last year’s Bumblebee. What sets this film apart from those others, though, and what truly makes it a fun, heartfelt ride for the whole family, is its setting, its animation, its humor, and some surprising twists regarding the characters. This is a gorgeous-looking film. As someone who’s lived in Shanghai, they got the architecture, the layout and general feel of the city down to a T. I could practically smell the pork buns as they were cooking. There is some fun, terrifically animated action, like a scene where the kids are riding giant dandelions (long story), and another where they’re surfing through a sea of flowers. It’s refreshing to see a big-budget American film set in China, which not only takes place in modern times but also is actually about Chinese people. Do you realize how rare that is? In the past, if American movies took place in China, they had to be about foreigners moving there, and being shocked by the local culture, or period pieces set in the Tang or Ming dynasty. In this film, though, the main characters are Chinese kids, with Chinese names, who eat Chinese food, and they’re not treated as weird or different from the presumed American audience. Peng, the youngest hero, loves basketball. Jin, his older cousin, is a social media addict, obsessed with how many followers he has. As someone who has lived in China, and is part Chinese, I know people who are like that. And speaking of characterization, I actually really liked what they did with the villains. They seem really one-note at first, but as the film progresses, you learn that there’s a lot more to them, and you even grow to like them. I can’t say what you learn, but suffice it to say that even I, a jaded writer, was surprised by it. The film’s also really funny, with me laughing out loud at least three times, and it’s got some great music. Whenever Yi plays her violin, for instance, I was reminded of Tan Dun’s scores for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Hero, and if you’ve read my blog, you know how much I love those films.

Now, if I have any complaints at all, it’s the fact that, for a film that is about reconnecting with your family, Yi’s relatives really don’t feature in the plot that much. You see her mother and grandmother in the beginning, and at the very end, after the adventure has concluded. They don’t go on the journey with her or have a heartfelt talk that helps bring about her transformation. This almost feels wrong. The main lesson that Yi has to learn is to appreciate them, to not push them away when she feels sad. And yet, they are absent for almost the entire runtime. The best way for me to articulate this point is to compare the film to my favorite movie of this year, Shazam. That flick also centers on family, with the main character, Billy, learning to not push away the ones who care about him. In that film, though, his family is featured in almost every scene. The climax involves him deciding to protect them, and, perhaps more importantly, they protect him too. Family isn’t just a word that is tossed around. It’s vital to the plot. Abominable has the same themes but doesn’t quite convey them in as effective a manner.

All that said, I do really like this flick, and would definitely recommend it. If you’ve got kids, like animation, care about representation, or are just looking for a funny, heartfelt adventure, this film will more than satisfy. Check it out as soon as you can.

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