As I sat watching Abominable, a thought that ran through my head was wondering when was the last time we had a major animated movie from Hollywood with a Chinese heroine – Disney’s Mulan was over twenty years ago? Big Hero 6 and Up both featured Asian leads, but Chloe Bennet is the first female heroine in years.
Abominable features Yi (Chloe Bennet), a teenager who busies her day earn money by running errands. Yi isolates herself from the world, including her mother and grandmother. She doesn’t sit down to dinner with the family; instead sneaking out the window to walk dogs and empty trash cans behind restaurants. Finishing her shift one afternoon, smelling like trash from her last job, she’s in no condition to hang with her friends taking selfies on the street. She’s got her mind on the money. It turns out Yi’s father died a few years ago and she’s got her heart set on saving up to take a trip around China, a trip she had planned to take with her father. Whenever she’s not working, Yi seeks a haven on the rooftop of her building, playing the violin – her father’s violin – while planning her trip. Her isolation from the world is a means for her to one day see the world.
One night she discovers a Yeti (Joseph Izzo) who’s been injured and is lost, far from home. He’s just as scared as she is, but after realizing she wants to help him, the two start to bond. Yi names him Everest after a neon billboard that catches their attention. Yi comes to understand that Everest is on the run from an animal collector Mr. Burnish (Eddie Izzard). But his home can only be among the snow-capped mountains of Everest and not with Mr. Burnish who wants to capture a Yeti for his own evil purposes.
Following Smallfoot and Missing Link, Abominable is the third movie about Yetis from Dreamworks Animation, this time partnering with Shanghai-based Pearl Studio. The plot is predictable but remarkably durable. Bad guy wants Yeti for his collection and to prove they exist. Young kid wants to save Yeti and get him home. Friendships form and adventure ensues as Yi and Everest trek across China to get him safely home.
What stands out in Abominable is the rich authenticity to the film. Not only are all the characters Asian, but all the voice actors are also of Asian descent, the film depicts Shanghai as a complex modern-day city. We get to explore Shanghai with all its vibrant atmosphere of neon billboards, high rise towers, and masses of citizens going about their everyday life. Yi’s apartment is modern. She lives with her Nai Nai and mother. Nai Nai expresses concern for Yi who is never home and never seems to want to eat her dumplings.
As Yi and Everest trek across China to get him back home and reunite him with his family, the journey for Yi also becomes that of a young girl who is grieving the loss of her father, a death that she has not yet come to terms with, and a young girl who follows an unexpected path to her long-awaited journey. While helping Everest, she gets to see China and the all sights her father had planned to show her.
In realizing her dreams and helping Everest, Yi also learns more about the value of her own family and the importance of reconnecting with her mother and grandmother. Yi is also joined on the adventure by Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) a super-cool guy who thinks more about his new sneakers and his hair than anything else, and his cousin Peng (the brilliantly adorable Albert Tsai) who becomes Everest’s best pal. The themes are indeed universal – family, love, and no place like home. Everyone who embarks on this journey learns something about themselves.
Dreamworks Animation and Pearl Studio deliver a range of vividly beautiful visuals whether we’re in the city or out in the soaring visuals of China as Yi and Everest set out on their grand adventurous ride, packed with emotional resonance. The goals of Abominable align with previous collaborations Dreamworks and Pearl, including How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Kung Fu Panda 3, to take its viewers on a journey of enlightened exploration.
The animation of course is stella. Everest, for example, doesn’t talk, and most of his nuances are confined to his eyes; yet, his emotions are lovingly conveyed in such a wonderful way.
The visual beauty of Abominable’s storytelling is matched by the Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score, elevating the animation to another level. Standing out when Yi plays her violin. Yi carries a photo of her father in her violin case and is intimately connected to the instrument. Whenever she plays, the music sears with love.
Abominable is indeed refreshing. Taking a familiar face – the Yeti – but instead of retelling or reimaging ancient folklore, it’s approach is modern. It’s sweet. It’s cute. It’s adorable, and Jill Coulton invests the story with plenty of heart to make Abominable a thoroughly entertaining adventure for both children and adults.