Smallfoot Review: Yeti Animated Feature Steps on Familiar Field
PG: Some action, rude humor, and thematic elements
Warner Bros. Animation, Warner Animation Group
Dir: Karey Kirkpatrick | Writers: Karey Kirkpatrick, Clare Sera
Voice Cast: Channing Tatum, James Corden, Zendaya, Common, LeBron James, Danny DeVito, Gina Rodriguez, Yara Shahidi, Ely Henry, Jimmy Tatro, Justin Roiland
A bright young Yeti finds something he thought didn’t exist: a human. News of this “smallfoot” brings him fame and a chance with the girl of his dreams. It also throws the simple Yeti community into an uproar over what else might be out there in the big world beyond their snowy village. It’s a rollicking story about friendship, courage, and the joy of discovery.
For this being Warner Animation Group’s second non-LEGO related released, the entire team of animators has done a great job making the film look stunning. Since this story follows a community of Yetis, the entire visual effects team had to work with a lot of snow and the snow effects are pretty effective. It is used mostly as a punchline for several visual gags, but as far as animation goes, it looks so real in this cartoon-ish world. The production designs are also impressive where the Yeti village is bright, lush, and colorful, but so is the human village beneath their mountains. You are instantly immersed into their home with how cleverly structured it is and how well the architecture holds together.
Most of all, the character designs are great. This is Warner Bros., the studio that created “Looney Tunes”, so when it comes to the bodies and facial features of both the Yetis and the humans, they possess the same elements as a “Looney Tunes” character, from the scale and size to those distinguishable oval eyes. One thing that got to me is the fact that the Yetis themselves each look distinctively different. You are able to tell one Yeti from another. It is a small society, yet all of them have their own style. Migo (Tatum) is standard size, Dorgle (Devito) is small, Gwangi (James) is huge, etc etc. Even when they bring the human Percy (Cordon) to their land, you can see the field of scale they had to work with by having the human characters integrate with the large creatures.
One of the funniest and most creative aspects of the movie is the language barrier between the humans and Yetis. It's not one of those animated movies where the humans can communicate with the creature so willy nilly. There's a bit of reality thrown into the mix for creative purposes that supports the film’s central theme. Humans hear Yetis through roars and Yetis can hear humans through squeaks. It's pretty funny and original.
What you don't know is that this movie is a musical. It’s been two years since the last full-blown, CGI-animated musical (“My Little Pony: The Movie” counts, but it wasn’t major). It’s kind of baffling how Warner Bros. were the ones to embrace it for this movie. They were always the anti-musical studio since they launched “The Lego Movie”. Even if the movie had musical sequences, they were to parody the Disney songs.Not too long ago we had “Teen Titans Go to the Movies” which featured a song called ‘Upbeat Inspirational Song About Life’. They specialized on songs that satirized Disney-styled songs. Not even “Storks” resulted to that because it was mostly aiming to be an inventive, hilarious comedy, which it perfectly succeeded on as a film from the studio that had the fast-and-zany animation reputation. They were being themselves. They're the studio who perfected animated comedies ever since Bugs Bunny said the words:
Now, with “Smallfoot”, it feels like they are emulating Disney for the most part. Some songs are weak and cheesy, especially the opening, but at least Channing has a set of pipes I never knew about. There are about five musical numbers and the only two that stood out were Zendaya’s (which would be a better song if it was made for another film) and Common’s (which has a bold statement about oppression… aka almost every Common song ever).
While “Smallfoot” has that similar, zany, fast-paced, frantic animation as other Warner Animation Group films, it doesn't have the comedic, witty dialogue to back it up. It may be funny at times, but it's mostly because of the abundant amount of visual gags. The main issue with the animation of this film is that it never moves at one balanced pace; it's very inconsistent. Most of the time the characters move so quickly because it’s a cartoon, and if not, cartoonish hijinks occur around them, but then they’ll move relatively slow when the film decides to take itself seriously. There is never a normal speed to their movement so it’s off-putting to see a serious moment diminished by exaggerated movements. When it comes to dialogue, a lot of the jokes fall flat. The jokes aim low, especially since this is a children’s film, but it doesn’t have the same appeal as something like “Storks” or “The Lego Movie” had for adults.
Then, of course, you have to talk about the animated tropes that pander to the kids. All of your favorite animated tropes are present to pander to your child:
Pacman visual gag
And character mimicking an inflatable, stretchy-arm tube man
There is no reason for these jokes to be present in this 2018 movie when the peak for those jokes was in 2012. No Pacman visual gag joke will get better than “Wreck it Ralph”. No screaming goat will ever be funnier than the Taylor Swift meme. The only inflatable, stretchy-arm tube man joke that’s funny is in “Family Guy” so yeah, quit while you’re behind.
“Smallfoot” bears a great message about challenging and questioning dogma and it gets a bit chilling at times. While the theme is great and surprisingly bold for a children's feature, there are story issues in the script which mostly center on the characters. None of the characters’ personalities are complex enough for us to attach any emotions towards, especially Migo. Migo isn’t that interesting of a character, but everyone around him is because they have a distinct personality to them and their dialogue is much better. All of the vocal performances are great, but the characters are written so thinly, especially when it comes to the powerful message the film tries to convey.
Dear James Corden,
Stop voicing egotistical, self-centered characters in animated movies. It's becoming trite and annoying now. It didn't help that this started out with your terrible character Hi-5 from “The Emoji Movie”, but you just kept going from there.
At least this one has an arc that is decent and he has a wonderful singing voice that makes up for it, but now you’re becoming that typecasted guy in Hollywood. We get it. You’re so busy working on a Late Night show that the only form of work you can find is voice acting. Well, next time you get casted as an animated character, make sure they’re not the same self-centered prick as your previous characters. It’s as if your agent is trying to do this on purpose in order to convey a message concerning your personality, but you haven’t been getting the memo so he’s booked another role to play that same unlikable asshole.
“Smallfoot” has outstanding animation that’s visually fun to watch, but it’s unbalanced tone and thin characters set it back from being a great family film. It’s slightly above your average kids film, but it had better potential.
Rating: 3/5 | 65%
Super Scene: Let it Lie.