Grade: B
Entire family: Yes
2018, 96 min., Color
Animation
Warner Bros.
Rated PG for some action, rude humor, and thematic elements
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Code
Trailer
Amazon link

You’d think that with Expedition Everest in play, Disney would have been the ones to create a movie about Yetis. But this 2018 animated feature comes from Warner Bros.

Smallfoot may have been inspired by the children’s book Yeti Tracks, by Sergio Pablos—creator of the Despicable Me stories—but writer-director Karey Kirkpatrick also owes a debt to the original Planet of the Apes movie.

Just as the leaders of the ape society preached that men were dumb animals that had not evolved yet, hiding the truth that man had been a highly advanced creature that had destroyed their society and were a threat to ape existence, the Stonekeeper of a Yeti village high above the clouds in the Himalayas preaches that humans (or “smallfeet”) are legendary, not factual creatures. All of the Yeti laws are written on small stone tablets that are worn by the Stonekeeper, who hides the fact that humans, thinking the Yetis monsters, had tried to kill and destroy them, driving them high up in the mountains where they found refuge. And the cloud layer that hides the top of the mountain where the Yetis live? It’s generated by a giant machine that is Yeti-powered, allowing the Stonekeeper to preach that there is nothing underneath those clouds.

Ignorance is bliss and curiosity is the enemy, the Stonekeeper of this religion-based society maintains—all in a patriarchal effort to protect the Yetis from the outside world. His own daughter, though, cannot stifle her curiosity, and Meechee (Zendaya) starts the secretive Smallfoot Evidentiary Society.

Smallfoot’s message will sail right over the heads of young viewers, who will be swept away by the music and visuals. There are some pretty catchy tunes here, and this Blu-ray comes with a “Yeti Set Go Sing-Along” way to watch the film. Musically, Smallfoot gets an A-, and it’s pretty hard to find fault with the animation as well. It’s when we get into the concept and story that a few negatives seep in. Then again, your age will determine whether you see those as negatives or positives.

The quirkiest element is that our hero, Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum), is a law-abiding Yeti who is training to do what his father has done for many many years: shooting himself out of a giant slingshot to hit a gong on a mountain peak . . . with his head. Just as the rooster of folklore believed that the sun would not rise unless he crowed, Dorgle (Danny DeVito) is convinced that his daring launch is responsible for the sun coming up each day.

The plot is set in motion when Migo, on a practice launch, misses his target and lands outside the village. There he sees a plane crash and returns to tell the other Yetis. But without proof, he’s banished from the village. Later, Meechee and her other Smallfoot Evidentiary Society members find Migo. With their encouragement (and because he has a crush on her), he agrees to be lowered below the clouds to look for proof.

Enter wildlife documentary filmmaker Percy Patterson (James Corden), who is trying to reclaim his fame with a big score. But finding no Yetis, he resorts to convincing his assistant to put on a Yeti suit. Through a series of misunderstandings and cases of mistaken identity, Migo ends up running off with Percy and brings him back as proof. You’d think that would be the end of things, but that’s when the Stonekeeper (Common) takes Migo into his confidence and shows him the cave drawings that tell the real story of the “smallfeet.” Will Migo help spread lies to save his fellow Yetis from humans, or will truth win out? That’s the dramatic question that children will focus on, rather than the implied religious and governmental conspiracies. And yeah, there are those catchy songs and a clever flipping of the script where Bigfoot isn’t the legendary creature . . . Smallfoot is.

In an age when people would rather believe fake news than accept hard truths, Smallfoot is both a product of its time and a voice of reason crying in the Himalayan wilderness. It’s absolutely suitable for family viewing, and might even prompt some discussion.

Language: Clean as a whistle, gosh darn it—even the rap explanation that Common as the Stonekeeper sings

Sex: Nothing here

Violence: There’s a bit of blood specks shown when a character gets caught in a bear trap and released, and there’s some damage to buildings and tranquilizer darts shot during the film’s climax

Adult situations: Nothing here either

Takeaway: Some far-fetched plot elements and a facile third act are the only things that detract from this colorful, animated musical adventure-comedy

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