Though the sardonic comic style that drives the best parts of this feature has become the default mode for Hollywood animation of late, the physical gags are more in line with the classic Looney Toons shorts of yesteryear, so it’s no surprise that Warners produced and distributes Smallfoot. Set in the Himalayas, the movie is given plenty of opportunity for characters to drop long distances into the snow, screaming all the way.
Even the cultural premise on which the story is based is goofily anti-PC in the best Chuck Jones manner. We’re among the legendary yeti, those creatures of myth whose only proof of existence is large footprints in the snow. Reversing the cliche, the yeti themselves have a mythology about “Smallfoots,” meaning the human race, which some believe and others don’t. In any event a whole narrative has evolved over what Smallfoots represent, none of which is taken seriously by the filmmakers. If anything, the mythology mirrors our own ridiculous need to believe in ghosts and boogeymen. More interesting is the yeti’s religious dogma, which revolves around a collection of prophetic stones that no one questions except a small group of free-thinkers whose ideas are seen by the establishment (i.e., a shaman called the Stonekeeper) as threatening the security of the yeti civilization. But the most pointed, and hilarious, manifestation of this mythology is the daily practice of ringing a gong to announce the sunrise (which they think is a giant snail), performed by launching a yeti from a giant slingshot head first into the brass disk. The result of years of this sort of thing it a decidedly flat head.
The character with the honor of carrying out this painful routine is Dorgle (Danny DeVito), the father of the protagonist, Migo (Channing Tatum), who can’t wait to assume his birthright as the ringer of the gong. However, one day Migo encounters a crash-landed airplane containing a Smallfoot (James Corden), who is actually a down-on-his-heels TV adventure host trying to find a big story. Instead, the story finds him, but when he escapes and Migo tries to tell the other yeti that Smallfoots do exist, they doubt him and the Stonekeeper (Common) tries to disavow the discovery, since it could undermine his and the stones’ authority. Naturally, the rebel group believe Migo and spur him to leave the safety of the yetis’ high mountain enclave to prove that Smallfoots do exist. Meanwhile, the TV host is back in a foothills village plotting a means of reconnecting with the “monster” he encountered, but this time with video camera in tow.
Though the plot is little more than functional, the jokes hit-or-miss, and the musical numbers disposable, the total unseriousness of the project is disarming and, in the end, infectious. Smallfoot aims for an audience below the age of 12 without sucking up to their parents, which means the scatological humor and death-defying slapstick rule the visual component. Certainly the best joke is having the English dialogue of the yeti, much of which is presented as borderline ebonics (half the voice cast is made up of celebrities-of-color like LeBron James and Zendaya), rendered as roaring and grunting when heard by the humans. Abominable it ain’t.
Now playing in subtitled and dubbed versions in Tokyo at Shinjuku Picadilly (050-6861-3011).
Smallfoot home page in Japanese.
photo (c) 2018 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.