Dreamworks Animation’s “Abominable” Is The First Co-Production With China’s Pearl Studios. Writer/Director Jill Culton’s Film Gives Pixar & Disney A Run For Their Money, As “Abominable” Easily Ranks As One Of The Year’s Ten Best Films. It’s Full Of Diversity & Hits Harder Than You’d Expect As It Shows That There Is No Right Or Wrong Way To Grieve Over A Loved One. It’s A Truly Magical Film That Captured My Attention From It’s Opening Frame To It’s Last.
It’s hard not to review an animated film or talk about a studio animation film, without mentioning big ol’ bad Disney. Clearly Disney and the studio’s highly successful animation department Pixar is the king of animation. However in recent years a few animation studios have popped up that have done work that is as good or even dare I say it…better work than the house of mouse.
Sony Pictures Animation has proven themselves with some good films, with my favorites being “Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse” and “Hotel Transylvania”. Then there is Illumination studios, who have stunning animation and create great films. They are the creators behind “The Secret Life Of Pets”, “Despicable Me” and “The Minions”. Illumination is the only real studio and competition for the juggernaut that is Disney.
Then there is DreamWorks Animation, that is headed by Dreamworks Pictures, founded in 1994 by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen. Dreamworks Animation who created “Shrek”, “Trolls” and “How To Train Your Dragon”, occasionally release films that are both original and exciting; they’re a real different kind of flavor from the usual studio animation we see. Dreamworks newest film is “Abominable”, that can be said to have a Disney influence and still keeps with the DreamWorks unique brand and style. It’s the first co-production between DreamWorks Animation and China’s Pearl Studio, that has “Abominable”, giving Pixar and Disney a run for their money. “Abominable” easily ranks as one of this years ten best films.
If you’ve seen the trailers for “Abominable” (which I don’t see how anyone hasn’t). It’s clear that it revolves around a magical Yeti. Animation studios has been in a Yeti frenzy lately, that began with last September’s “Smallfoot”, and continued with last spring’s “Missing Link”. I have not seen either film but I can’t imagine them being as good as “Abominable”.
“Abominable” has a beautiful magic to it and you can feel it from it’s opening frames. Headed by a solid direction from writer and director Jill Culton, who helmed Sony Animations “Open Season” and helped write Pixar’s “Monsters Inc”. Culton’s visual style and animation is visually amazing, while keeping the film with an incredible charm and heart. One of the things I love most is that it continues to explore diversity, as China is the setting in delivering a culturally specific odyssey for our lead character and her friends.
Yi (“Agents Of Shield”, Chloe Bennet) is spending most of her time in isolation, from her mother (Michelle Wong) and her grandmother Nai Nai (Tsai Chin). They continue to try and reach out to Yi, only for her to shut them away and just carry out her days endlessly keeping busy by working her half-dozen jobs. Yi is saving money to go on a trip across China, that her recently deceased father had planned with her.
The only people she seemingly speaks to is her neighbor Peng (Albert Tsai) and his cousin Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor). Jin who is a social media-obsessed superficial ladies’ man, that dresses like Alex P Keaton. Peng just bothers everyone, asking to play basketball with him so he can live his dreams of becoming a professional player. Their lives change when Yi discovers that a yeti on the roof of their building trying to hide away, after breaking out from a lab housing mysterious animals.
Thanks to a conveniently well-lit billboard advertising for a trip to Mount Everest, Yi learns that is where the Yeti is from, and he quickly earns the nickname “Everest”. Jin and Peng tag along with Yi in her quest to help Everest escape the city and find his way home, to where the title should be “How To Train Your Yeti”. Following them on their journey is the films baddies, Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson) and creepy looking animal collector Mr. Burnish (Eddie Izzard).
As they go across China to take Everest home and try to avoid the bad guys, they learn more about themselves as well as more about Everest. Yetis are known to being mythological creatures, and Everest is no doubt a creature of magic. Everest has the ability to manipulate nature around him, everything from making fruit super-sized to allowing the group to use their boat on land and surf the grass like a tidal wave. The adventurers travel across the Gobi Desert and over the Himalayas, bringing fresh destinations for an animated movie and it’s all beautifully rendered by the animators at DreamWorks and Pearl Studios.
The story of children helping a mythical creature find its way back home, is a pretty generic one. It’s been done so many times, it makes the film’s script feel a bit dull and predictable. When it comes down to the nitty-gritty and the human drama of it. Culton’s screenplay doesn’t color outside the lines, giving Yi a deceased father and a psychological blockage to clear, as she uses the power of her violin skills to create beauty through music in celebrating her father.
The death of Yi’s father, and her inability to process her own grief, is a major factor in “Abominable’s” story, and it’s an interesting angle for an animated film. Deceased parents are nothing new in the realm of animation, but does it rarely ever serve as the motivation for the main character as it does here. Yi has a hard time understanding her complicated feelings about her father’s passing, and “Abominable”, shows that there’s no right or wrong way to grieve.
The score is stunning, having Yi’s violin solos be the film’s musical highlights. Yi is well trained in the violin, but that is a special bond she did with her father, as she no longer wants to perform for others. Although she still does in her own privacy, and when Everest hears her and hums along, which activates his powers, it makes the two bond over her violin playing. It leads to something special that happens, that makes her playing very important to the narrative of the film in a really beautiful scene. The film kicks in a lyrical song in a sequence, taking place at the Leshan Giant Buddha that merges with Coldplay’s “Fix You”, and becomes a moving accompaniment to the beautiful sequence.
With the film based in China, it’s a plus that most of the main cast are voiced by actors of Asian descent. The themes of “Abominable” are universal, dealing with loss and grief. Yi is a great character and the exact kind of person you want in your life and have as a friend. Her story and her history with her father, is where the heart of the film is. It maybe a film about a girl and her yeti, but it’s really a story about a girl and her father and how she finds a way to let people back into her heart.
“Abominable” has a lot here that works to great effect. Culton keeps the movie speeding along and most importantly allowing the magical tale to connect as it should. Connect it did! As I was fully immersed in the film from the start. It’s a truly magical film and no question one of this years ten best films.
GRADE: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)