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Should I Watch..? 'Abominable' (2019)

Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.

Film's poster

Film's poster

What's the Big Deal?

Abominable is a CG-animated adventure film released in 2019 that was both written and directed by Jill Culton. The film is set in the Far East and follows a young girl and her two friends as they try to successfully escort a friendly yeti back home to the Himalayas, all the while pursued by the semi-military forces of veteran explorer and industrialist Burnish and his zoologist assistant, Dr Zara. The film stars the vocal talents of Chloe Bennett, Albert Tsai, Tenzing Norgay Trainor, Eddie Izzard, Sarah Paulson and Tsai Chin. The film generated some controversy in Asian markets and was ultimately banned in a number of countries. The film is also notable for its mostly ethnic casting, something of a rarity for a Hollywood film at the time. The film went on to earn a global total of more than $189 million (proving especially popular in China) and received a warm reception from critics at the time.

Watchable

What's It About?

Young teenager Yi is mourning the loss of her violinist father while living with her mother and elderly relative Nai Nai in their apartment in Shanghai. Shunning her family as well as her own violin practise, her only companions are basketball-loving Peng and her tech-savvy cousin Jin. Seeking solace on the rooftop of her apartment building, she plays her violin with a broken heart but nonetheless is astonished when her playing is interrupted by the discovery of a large, wounded and exhausted yeti. The beast is hesitant to befriend Yi until she realises that he is trying to stay hidden and she starts to treat his injuries.

Yi learns that the yeti, whom she names Everest, lives at the aforementioned mountain and decides to escort it back home. However, trying to smuggle Everest away from the prying eyes of the villainous Mr Burnish - who intends to recapture the yeti to prove their existence - proves difficult so using Peng and Jin who can scarcely believe Yins request is her only option. Escaping the city by boarding a boat at night, the four of them set off to reunite Everest with his own kind with Burnish's troops never that far behind...

Trailer

What's to Like?

Abominable is a difficult film to dislike unless you have an allergy to family entertainment. Like most DreamWorks animations, the film looks a touch too cutesy for my personal tastes but I can't fault the look of Everest itself, a mass of lovable white fur that feels like a bleached version of Sulley from Monsters, Inc. but without the dialogue. Nevertheless, the film's other heroes helps things along nicely - Bennett, having burst onto the scene in Marvel's Agents Of SHIELD on TV, does a good job as Yin with good comic support from Tsai and Chin. Unfortunately, Izzard is probably the stand-out as Burnish, a diminutive figure who feels much more rounded and well-written as a character than the others. It also helps that he sometimes delivers what feels like improvised lines of dialogue in a way that's reminiscent of his stand-up shows which I have been luck enough to attend.

What really impressed me was the visual effects of the film as it feels like a technical showcase demonstrating the improvements in computer animation made over the last fifteen or twenty years. Water is especially realistic while Everest's hair flows and fluffs up nicely but the film has several wide shots of city and landscapes which look amazing and full of detail. It's a shame that the characters can't match the natural look of their surroundings but only adult viewers would find room to complain about this. The film is a fine family film, one that offers plenty of scope for comedy and adventure without much in the way of anything that parents might disapprove of. It's definitely one for younger viewers but it's a largely inoffensive and entertaining watch in its own way. It doesn't do much wrong but it also doesn't do much to stand out from an increasingly crowded market, which is possibly its biggest flaw.

The film offers younger viewers an impressive adventure with some excellent visual effects.

The film offers younger viewers an impressive adventure with some excellent visual effects.

Fun Facts

  • The film was banned in Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines due to a scene in the film that viewers in the West would probably have missed. At one point, a map is shown that depicts support for China's contested claims to territory in the South China Sea in an area known as the Nine Dash Line. The filmmakers refused to cut the scene from the film, leaving authorities no choice but to ban the film.
  • Tenzing Norgay Trainor is the grandson of Tenzing Norgay, the Tibetan sherpa mountaineer who accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary to the peak of Mount Everest in May, 1953 - the first two people to scale the world's tallest mountain.
  • The film was one of three films released within a year to depict yeti in the Himalayas, the others being Smallfoot and Missing Link. Released first, it's not surprising that Smallfoot was the most successful financially while Missing Link earned positive reviews from critics, becoming the first non-CG animation to win the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature Film.
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What's Not to Like?

There were two things that bothered me about Abominable. The first is the sheer averageness of the finished product, which sounds harsh but actually isn't as bad as it sounds. The film just has a degree of competence that makes everything... fine. The animation looks crisp but is far too similar to other DreamWorks animations, especially How To Train Your Dragon. The film's soundtrack is unmemorable and the voice talent is adequate, besides Izzard's trademark wackiness. For younger viewers who are perhaps less discerning than myself, this isn't a problem - no kid is going to complain about the characters looking almost exactly the same as characters in any other DreamWorks animation for the last ten years or so. But compare this to radical efforts that push the boundaries for animation - whether its the sheer beauty of WALL-E or the unique storyline of Inside Out - and suddenly, this film looks very safe and unimaginative.

The other thing that bothered me also won't trouble younger viewers either. There is an uneasy sense of appeasement behind the film - yes, it features Chinese characters and settings but the film doesn't really push this fact and it has to be said, the characters don't look especially Chinese. It's as though the filmmakers were afraid to push the film's origins as a Chinese film (the animation was overseen by Pearl Studio, a subsidiary of DreamWorks based in Shanghai) for fear of being seen potentially as propaganda. I noted that the villain is quite obviously English and their pseudo-military hardware is frequently outwitted by the three children accompanying Everest back home, using little more than their smarts and Everest's magical powers. It's tempting to look beneath the surface and analyse any hidden messages within the film's cutesy appearance. But again, younger viewers won't be particularly bothered by this and it's probably best to watch the film purely as a kiddie-friendly adventure.

The film has a cuddly charm that offers plenty of thrills to entertain most members of the family - which is exactly what you want in a film such as this.

The film has a cuddly charm that offers plenty of thrills to entertain most members of the family - which is exactly what you want in a film such as this.

Should I Watch It?

There's nothing especially wrong with Abominable and it deserves credit for utilising a cast that is ethnically suitable for the parts. But unfortunately, the film doesn't do much to push the boundaries and these days, this middle-of-the-road approach just can't cut it any more. Taken on its own, the film is decent enough family entertainment with plenty of pretty visuals and a cuddly monster to win over the most grumpy of viewers. But it feels a long way behind the cream of the crop and with more CG animated movies being released than ever, it's difficult to imagine it becoming as successful as some other DreamWorks franchises.

Great For: Chinese audiences, families with younger children, environmentalists

Not So Great For: cynics, troubling the competition, remaining in the memory

What Else Should I Watch?

In a genre such as computer generated animation where technological achievements are occurring all the time, twenty years is a very long time indeed and it's now twenty years ago since DreamWorks had their first hit with Shrek, a subversive fantasy film that introduced the big green ogre and his talking donkey to audiences all over the world. It looks positively quaint by today's standards but there's no denying the impact the film had, the first to really challenge the dominance of Pixar, and it became the first of four films and numerous short films. They have had other franchises to their name - the likes of Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and more recently Trolls to name a few - but the first Shrek film has a special place in my heart.

However, those who know me know that Pixar will always be my first true love. Described by critic Roger Ebert as the first movie studio that was a movie star, Pixar have grown from pioneers of the CG animation to one of its more innovative and interesting producers. Unlike DreamWorks and other studios, Pixar seem unafraid to tackle more unusual concepts and ideas such as the aforementioned Inside Out which is largely set inside the mind of a young girl or Coco, inspired by the Mexican Day Of The Dead festival. But they can also provide great fun for viewers of any age - The Incredibles was perhaps the most fun I've ever had in a theatre and I just adore WALL-E, another environmentally-themed CG that manages to tell a love story, a sci-fi epic and a slapstick comedy without much in the way of dialogue for large parts.

Main Cast (voice performance)

ActorRole

Chloe Bennett

Yin

Albert Tsai

Peng

Tenzing Norgay Trainor

Jin

Eddie Izzard

Burnish

Sarah Paulson

Dr Zara

Tsai Chin

Nai Nai

Joseph Izzo

Everest

Technical Info

DirectorsJill Culton & Todd Wilderman

Screenplay

Jill Culton

Running Time

97 minutes

Release Date (UK)

11th October, 2019

Rating

U

Genre

Animation, Adventure, Family

© 2021 Benjamin Cox

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