Arts movie review

‘Abominable’ plays it safe

Family-friendly movie offers no surprises

9151 abominable
Peng (Albert Tsai), Everest, Yi (Chloe Bennet) and Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) travel through the mountains in DreamWorks Animation and Pearl Studio's 'Abominable.'
Courtesy of Universal Studios

Directed by Jill Culton, Todd Wilderman
Screenplay by Jill Culton
Starring Chloe Bennet, Albert Tsai, Tenzing Norgay Trainor, Joseph Izzo, Sarah Paulson
Rated PG, Playing Sept. 27

Abominable spins the heartwarming tale of a young girl, Yi (Chloe Bennet), who is coping with the loss of her father while navigating her way across China with her neighbors and a not-so-mythical yeti. 

The yeti, Everest (Joseph Izzo), is trying to find his way back home to Mt. Everest after escaping from captivity. He lands himself on the roof of Yi’s apartment and through peace offerings of Nainai’s pork buns and music, Yi and Everest develop a charming friendship and help one another find the missing parts of themselves. Joining them on the adventure are Yi’s neighbors, lovable basketball fan Peng (Albert Tsai) and smooth-talking ladies’ man Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor).

The plot itself is nothing remarkable: it’s a road adventure sprinkled with sinister authorities, clueless civilian bystanders, and culturally-sound landmarks. Our protagonists find themselves in various fantastical situations set against real locations like the Leshan Giant Buddha as they race against the villains to return Everest home. There’s a magical sequence or two thanks to the animation, which is the film’s strongest area. And the stunning animation and endearing characters are enough to keep the movie chugging along to its unsurprising, but heartwarming conclusion. The visual effects conjure up a China brimming with mist and wonder — a far cry from its invented persona in the American imagination, which is so often insidious or industrial. 

And while its cultural nuances will be familiar to any Chinese-American viewer, Abominable, unlike other recent major motion pictures set in Asia, does not situate itself as an Asian-American film. Unlike Crazy Rich Asians or The Farewell, Abominable’s narrative is universal; it just happens to be set in China. This does cause for some raised eyebrows. For example, Jin is on the cusp of college, on track to become a pre-med, even though medical schools in China do not require an undergraduate degree.

Abominable plays it safe in its storytelling and direction. Yi’s grief is subdued; the movie asks no difficult questions about loss or love. The dialogue is clever enough, but not memorable. The voice acting was strong throughout, crafting believable relationships among all the characters. It’s a movie designed for children, but it can be enjoyed by anyone looking for a feel-good, family-friendly movie.