ABOMINABLE (Jill Culton). Opens Friday (September 27). 97 minutes. See listing. Rating: NNN
As far as kids’ movies go, Abominable has all the broad thrills, furry-critter cuteness and stock humour young audiences could hope for. But this U.S.-China co-production is far more fascinating as a business model than a movie.
This is the first feature in three years from Pearl, formerly Oriental DreamWorks, a venture between stakeholders that are continents apart making products to appeal to Asian and American audiences while reaping major coin from both big box-office markets. Together, they cook up an East-meets-West animated movie that lands somewhere between How To Train Your Dragon and Pokémon.
The creature in Abominable is a Yeti. It’s a part of Western folklore but geographically belongs in the Himalayas. The Yeti in Abominable, nicknamed Everest (voiced by Joseph Izzo), also has magical powers. He can manipulate nature to sprout flowers, roll hills or just make things sway in ways that would delight Zhang Yimou.
Everest, named for the home he yearns to get to, is in Shanghai, on the run from well-funded captors that can’t decide whether he belongs in a lab or on a mantle. He gets help from Yi (Chloe Bennet), a teen secretly working odd jobs to save up for a trip across China. She once planned the trip with her father, who has since died. They earmarked the Gobi desert and the Leshan Giant Buddha as places to visit. So escaping with a Yeti on that same journey serves the film’s emotional arc while also pleasing China’s ministry of tourism.
Abominable never transcends its existence as a product meant to satisfy synergistic corporate and cultural goals. That it still resembles a movie and can fit in a few nuanced laughs and warm domestic details – like Yi’s intrusive nai nai and her delicious-looking pork buns – is impressive enough.