In the city of Shanghai, young teen Yi (Chloe Bennet) longs for a life of adventure in the aftermath of her father’s death. She spends her days doing odd jobs around the city to earn money for her future, while her remaining family do what they can to keep her close to home. Basically, she spends her days trying to be as alone as possible. That is, until she makes one incredible discovery.
On the roof of her apartment building, a Yeti with magical powers is hiding. Though he may look like a threat, he’s really an innocent child whose just looking for a way home, Mount Everest. Naming him Everest, Yi intends to help him, and inadvertently drags her best friends Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) and Peng (Albert Tsai) along for the ride. But the road to Everest’s family won’t be easy, as they are being chased by his captors, billionaire Mr. Burnish (Eddie Izzard) and exotic animal scientist Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson).
There is no denying that the film is visually stunning. All of DreamWorks’ films have amazing visuals that are a pure treat for the eyes. However, that’s really all it has going for it. Abominable takes the best elements of other animated films and mashes them together within shiny new packaging, without doing anything to truly reinvent them. One can’t help but think while they’re watching this film that they feel like they’ve seen this all before.
That wouldn’t be an issue if the film didn’t seem fully content on doing this. It never once tries to reinvent the various kid movie clichés that it relies on. One scene after another feels like a redone version of other scenes from other films. Everything the characters say and do has been done before. Even every joke spat out by the characters has been utilized better in other films. This film has no intention to give us something new. It just repackages what worked before with the hope that no one notices.
One of the most annoying examples of this is the characters. Nobody in this film feels like a genuine human being, just kid movie stereotypes. Yi is your typical rebellious, adventure-seeking teenage girl. Jin is your basic “does everything by the books” kid. Peng is the typical goofy, comic relief kid who offers the occasional help. Even the villains are stereotypical villains found in other kid films.
This also isn’t helped by the rather subpar voice cast. Nobody in this film sounds like they enjoyed playing their characters, nor really care about who they were. They sound like they’re doing impressions of what they’re characters might sound like, but never really become them. They only one worth mentioning is Sarah Paulson, even if it is far from her best performance. At least she keeps her scenes watchable.
Another annoying problem with the film is its willingness to undercut its most dramatic moments. We need moments that make us think that certain characters have perished. That’s what makes us care for them. However, when we get moments like this in this film, they are resolved a few seconds later. We don’t get anytime to think that they’ve died, or been captured, or whatever. More evidence about how soft kids have become today.
Even Everest himself is a problem in the script. His magical powers range with no explanation of everything he can do or why he can do it. In the end. his powers feel like a MacGuffin, existing only to help the characters without furthering the plot in any meaningful way. This makes the character himself, the central character of the entire story, feeling utterly useless. At the very least, he feels like he exists to try and sell toys.
The Asian setting is a welcome change of pace, and definitely feels a bit overdue at this point. However, it feels rather underutilized in this film. While the characters and setting are definitely Asian, they and everything around them act about as American as possible. They’re still speaking English and saying American phrases, as well as doing things that American teenagers would do. Because of this, you could switch the setting from Shanghai to any given town in America and it wouldn’t make a difference. An Asian setting should be used, but it should be used for more than an excuse to set it someplace different.
Abominable has stunning visuals, a unique setting, and noble intentions, but all are drowned out by the film’s uninspired narrative that is never willing to take advantage of any of them. Instead, we’re left with a half-baked adventure story that merely collects and distributes characters, humor, and set pieces from other, better animated films, and isn’t even willing to use its topical setting to its full potential. Seeing as how this is DreamWorks’s last original film for two years, and the second in a new era that began with How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, its about as disappointing as it can get without being a total disaster.