Abominable (Jill Culton, 2019) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Dreamwork’s Abominable is just the latest in a string of films to focus on Asian-centered storylines and characters, as well as the latest in a string of films to focus on Yeti-adjacent storylines and characters. While it is hardly the finest entry within either of these two canons, Abominable is able to not only provide an emotion-packed adventure story that combines the best of Western tropes with a unique and refreshing Chinese backdrop, but it is also able to inspire hope for all that these emerging narrative directions have to offer.
Yi is an edgy Chinese teen with one goal in mind: money. Why does she care so much about money? Her family asks the same question. While they chalk it up to a needless desire that only distances her from them, it’s all merely part of her attempt to travel the Chinese countryside just like her now-deceased father wanted her to. One seemingly large obstacle gets in her way, though, when she stumbles upon an escaped yeti that she chooses to protect from the ostensibly evil scientists who captured him, forcing them to go on the run with two ragtag neighbors of hers. These delightful characters are the pinnacle of Abominable. The most compelling element to Yi’s story, however, is Yi, herself. And although the antagonists’ arc arguably takes one too many turns, even they are used to powerfully speak to the larger social fabric at hand here.
Abominable tackles a mountain of familiar themes, ranging from familial love to self-love, and equally mixes these with relevant topics like animal cruelty and environmental protection. Each is given a treatment as sugary sweet as the massive blueberries at the center of it, making them a little tiresome for those well-versed in children’s movies’ conventions, but the same, delightful fun for those not. And while some of these themes manage to land better than others, all are immaculately serviced by the unique and exciting setting it has to offer, a setting that most of us have yet to see these themes play out in.
If this movie was just another kids story set on a generic American street corner, it would have only half as much to offer. The urban jungle that is the Chinese cityscape provides much of the visual beauty and action thrills that make up the first portion of the character’s journey. The transition into the vast expanse of the scenic Chinese landscape, however, is truly the aesthetic heart of the film. Each destination is utilized so thoughtfully, maximizing the amount of potential fun and troubles these characters get into.
This very same quality is most exemplified through the yeti’s oft-explored superpowers that enable him to control and manipulate his natural surroundings. While these ultra-useful powers occasionally seem a tad overly convenient, it allows the animators to push the boundaries of creativity, creating countless dazzling set pieces that more than make up for this. Although Abominable occasionally veers into territory a touch too infantile for my taste, it remains considerably fun throughout. The relatable themes, the thought-provoking social topics, and the fluffy, irresistible cuteness of the beast at the center, are sure to measure up to be perfect wintery fun the whole family can enjoy.