“Abominable” brings smallish charms to animation’s latest Bigfoot tale. A collaboration of DreamWorks and China’s Pearl Studio, the familiar formula about a kid with a fantastic friend – here, a girl trying to help a Yeti go home – possesses an undeniable “E.T.” vibe, conjuring good moments, but no over-the-moon ones.
Said Yeti is helpfully designed with big, soulful eyes, augmented by what amounts to a Wookiee growl. In the opening moments he escapes from a facility where he’s being held – in a city that looks very much like Shanghai, but is never explicitly identified as such – taking refuge on the rooftop where the teenage Yi (voiced by “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD’s” Chloe Bennet) lives, now just with her mom and grandma after dad’s death.
Realizing that the creature (who she names Everest) doesn’t belong there, Yi embarks on an adventure to take him back to the Himalayas, aided, enthusiastically and grudgingly, by two other kids (Tenzing Norgay Trainor and Albert Tsai) who live in the building.
They are pursued, meanwhile, by the wealthy, Yeti-obsessed Burnish (Eddie Izzard) and his lead henchwoman (Sarah Paulson), who want to put the beast on display, and have considerable resources at their disposal.
The simplicity of the premise puts more pressure on the animation, which is crisp and occasionally beautiful, but not especially imaginative in its design. There’s also a fair amount of broad comedy (Yetis eat and drink a lot, with the expected side effects) and the added wild card that Everest possesses almost mystical powers.
Not surprisingly, writer-director Jill Culton (“Open Season”) weaves in a conservationist message – about the wisdom of leaving exotic animals in their natural habitats – and a fairly lovely travelogue of China as the quartet traverses the distance from metropolis to wilderness.
Still, it’s a slight construct, one not particularly helped by the fact that “Abominable” has the misfortune to be the third animated movie to walk a few miles in Bigfoot shoes released in the last year, after “Smallfoot” and “Missing Link.”
Mostly, “Abominable” reflects a transparent desire in Hollywood to cash in on the increasingly lucrative film-going market in China, and a corporate partnership that underscores cooperation between the countries, the current trade rift notwithstanding.
The bottom line, though, is that with Disney’s recent efforts, the bar has been set exceptionally high on animated fare. While “Abominable” is pleasant enough – diverting for kids and not painful for adults – even Everest doesn’t fully measure up standing against that yardstick.
“Abominable” premieres Sept. 27 in the US. It’s rated PG.