The third major animated movie about yetis in the past year, DreamWorks Animation’s Abominable is far less annoying than 2018’s Smallfoot (from Warner Animation Group) but not nearly as inventive and witty as Laika’s Missing Link from earlier this year. Abominable falls into a bland, safe middle ground, placing a yeti nicknamed Everest into a familiar story about a spunky teen girl learning the importance of family and coming to terms with the loss of a parent. Abominable is inoffensive and forgettable, the kind of thing that parents can nap through while their kids spend half the time watching it and half the time fidgeting in their seats.
Unlike the yetis of Smallfoot and Missing Link, Everest doesn’t speak or have any sense of culture or history. He’s more like an overgrown dog, whom teenager Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennet from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) discovers cowering on the roof of her Shanghai apartment building. Everest has escaped from a facility run by the devious Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson), who works for rich industrialist and exotic-animal enthusiast Mr. Burnish (Eddie Izzard). Burnish mobilizes his private security force to recapture Everest, who just wants to return to his namesake home (Yi gives him the name after she sees him staring longingly at a travel poster).
Along with her pint-sized, basketball-obsessed neighbor Peng (Albert Tsai) and Peng’s suave teenage cousin Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor), Yi sets out to help Everest get back to his family, along the way learning to appreciate her own mother and grandmother, whom she’s been keeping at arm’s length since the death of her beloved father. It’s a pretty rote emotional journey recognizable from plenty of animated movies aimed at kids, and writer-director Jill Culton (Open Season) keeps it fairly low-key, without any big emotional speeches or tearful reconciliations. The action is relatively low-key, too, although Everest has magical powers that allow him to manipulate the natural environment, from causing flowers to bloom to creating waves in a placid river.
Zara and Burnish are both sort of underwhelming villains who never transcend their stock types (amoral scientist, greedy businessman), and there’s not much sense of urgency to the central quest or Everest’s need to get home to his fellow yetis. Everest himself is cute but not particularly expressive or engaging, more a plot device than a character. The three humans have an appealingly relaxed dynamic, and Bennet gives Yi the right balance of spunk and insecurity. It’s tough to dislike any of these characters, but it’s tough to be particularly invested in them, either, and Abominable doesn’t have the visual grandeur of similar DreamWorks franchise How to Train Your Dragon to make up for the flat characters and dull narrative.
Produced in conjunction with Chinese animation studio Pearl, Abominable is clearly targeting a global audience with its China-set story created by an American filmmaker, but it rarely feels like it’s pandering to any particular demographic. Instead, it’s a relatively generic story that probably could have taken place anywhere with only minimal adjustments. That’s great for maximizing box-office revenue, but it doesn’t do much for creating an affecting or memorable movie.