In what is either an example of parallel thinking or an attempt for DreamWorks to match their competitors, Abominable is the third animated film in less than a year about yetis, after Warner Bros.’ Smallfoot and Laika’s stop-motion Missing Link. Yet within this trend of animated abominable snowmen movies, Abominable is stale, even to those who avoided the other two-thirds of this unexpected yeti trilogy. While Abominable does offer frequently gorgeous imagery, the fairly generic story only reminds of much better, familiar stories.
Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennet) has been keeping herself busy since the death of her father. She mostly avoids the rest of her family, and has spent her summer doing odd jobs in order to take a cross-country trip she was planning on taking with her dad. While practicing her violin on the roof of her Shanghai apartment complex, she finds an injured yeti hiding out and decides to help him get to his home of Mount Everest. On their trek, Yi and the yeti – fittingly named Everest – are joined by the basketball-loving Peng (Albert Tsai) and the phone-obsessed preppy Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) as they travel thousands of miles to bring it home. On their heels though is elderly explorer Burnish (Eddie Izzard) and zoologist Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson), who want to get Everest back for the fame and fortune that comes with such a rare find.
Abominable hits all the standard animation morals: spend more time with your family, don’t spend so much time with technology, and enjoy the world around you instead. But Abominable also comes off like a Frankenstein’s monster of other, superior films. Not surprisingly, DreamWorks turns Everest into a hairier version of How to Train Your Dragon’s Toothless, but with unexplained E.T.-like powers that allow Everest to make plants grow, and other powers that happen to sprout up whenever the situation calls for it.
Yet Abominable’s major influences come from ripping off various Disney properties. The overall look of Abominable is like Big Hero 6, the recurring “whooping snakes” bit is reminiscent of the birds from Finding Nemo, and the character of Burnish is a clear combination of villains from both Up and Ratatouille. This, combined with the banal story leave Abominable feeling like it’s lacking its own identity.
Which is a shame, since Abominable features some spectacularly beautiful visuals. The closer Abominable gets to Mt. Everest, the stronger Everest’s powers grow and the more exquisite the landscapes and animation become. Director Jill Culton – who previously directed Open Season for Sony Pictures Animation – makes the most of the nature this group is moving through. In the film’s most magnificent sequence, the group visits a massive Buddha statue, while flowers bloom, emotions about Yi’s father finally come out, and Yi’s violin playing combines with multiple versions of Coldplay’s “Fix You.” The scene could’ve easily been laughable if not handled well, but Culton makes the most of a scene that borders on cheesy and knows how to play the emotion of the sequence just right.
There’s beauty surrounding Abominable at every new stretch of these character’s journey, but the trite story and faint jokes scattered throughout take away from the visual spectacle that’s occurring around Yi and her friends. When Abominable plays off the sumptuous world it creates, the film is impressive. Unfortunately, Abominable is just too comfortable cribbing with tried-and-true ideas and films.