Film Review: "Abominable" has a warm heart, but lacks ambition
Like a snowball cascading down a mountainside, the ever-evolving landscape of animation is constantly toppling over itself: crafting new and ingenious ways to impersonate photographic realism, and yet - like a cheap seat at the theatre - a decent view is no excuse for a good story.
Dreamwork’s Abominable is one of the studios only wide-release films not based on a previous property this year, Abominable is written and directed by Jill Cutton (Monsters, Inc, Open Season) and brings some much-needed representation into the cinematic world of animation. Featuring a predominantly Chinese cast and set against the beautiful animated backdrops of East Asia, Abominable follows Yi (Chloe Bennet), a hard-pressed teen with no time for her family, her self-obsessed neighbour Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor), and his excitable younger brother Peng (Albert Tsai) who embark on a quest across gorgeous landscapes to return a mystical Yeti back to its home on Everest.
Abominable is heartfelt and undoubtedly means well, but the film utlimately falls too far into the snowy depths of predictability. With such intense care and skill required to produce an animated feature, it’s a wonder that a lacklustre screenplay made it so far through the process (That being said, Angry Birds managed to garner a sequel, so it looks like anything goes).
The flaws of Abominable are at no fault of the animation team, who should be credited for crafting a beautiful world full of vivid colour and gorgeous landscapes, whilst still retaining a unique sense of style and caricature. The voice actors manage to make their way across the script as smoothly as possible, however a decent amount of the humour isn’t delivered quite as effectively as intended. Surprisingly, veteran actress Sarah Paulson (Bird Box, American Horror Story) comes across as over-enthusiastic and underprepared for her lines as the zealous Dr. Zara, who is responsible for the initial capture of the yeti. It is former Bond Girl Tsai Chin ( You Only Live Once, Memoirs of a Geisha) who steals scenes as the strict yet understanding Grandmother, Nai Nai, who brings humour, heart, and enlightenment to Yi’s journey. The Yeti itself is an interesting creature, whose expressive eyes and intense detail make it a joy to witness on screen (including some incredibly fun first person point of view shots). The Yeti connects with nature through mystical humming, fun and interesting way to include Mongolian Throat singing into a film full of necessary Asian representation that doesn’t feel shoehorned.
Wherein the design, cinematography and general animation of the world and characters is amusing and entertaining, the film does not have a memorable soundtrack, and instead of crafting it’s own original score (which would’ve been exceptionally favourable to the film seeing as Yi carries her deceased fathers violin through her journey) it instead uses Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’ during several of it’s more dramatic or heartfelt moments.
In the end, Abominable attempts but never quite succeeds in giving us a satisfying story or well-developed character arcs. However, the Asian representation is long overdue and incredibly respective, the animation remains gorgeous, and the film’s young target audience will remain captivated by its quick pace and well-intended heart. Abominable means well enough but one less Coldplay song wouldn’t hurt.