When I first heard that I’d be reviewing an animated movie called “Abominable” this weekend, I was excited. I couldn’t wait to see a movie about a bovine that swallows an incendiary device. Sadly, this movie is about a yeti and not, as I had hoped, a bomb in a bull. Between this movie, this year’s “Missing Link,” and last year’s “Smallfoot,” all the yeti and Sasquatch jokes in existence have been made, so the bull joke is all that’s left.
The yeti escapes from the clutches of greedy industrialist Burnish (Eddie Izzard) and makes fast friends with a girl named Yi (Chloe Bennet), who gives him the unimaginative name of Everest. Yi is a girl who secretly works multiple jobs and plays the violin. All she needs to do is secretly eat vegetables and she’ll secretly be the perfect child. She’s squirrelling money away to go on a multi-stop tour of China. How much do you want to bet that she’ll go on that trip without even realizing it throughout the course of this film?
Burnish and his top scientist Zara (Sarah Paulson) are trying to hunt down Everest, so Yi spontaneously makes the decision to return Everest to his namesake mountain. She and Everest hop on a barge, prompting her impressionable young neighbor Peng (Albert Tsai) to hop aboard as well. Peng’s older cousin Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) is responsible for him, so he has to come along too. The unlikely trio navigate China trying to get their new friend home, bonding and learning about themselves along the way.
Yi and Peng are exactly what you’d expect from these types of characters. She’s strong, smart, and resourceful (oh, and independent, can’t forget independent), even under the emotional duress of having recently lost her father. He’s loyal, fun-loving, and always getting into trouble. Jin is well below what I’d expect from this type of character. I know it’s typical of movies like these to include a relatable fish-out-of-water character who isn’t happy about the inconvenience, but this kid’s voice is set unwaveringly to “whine” for at least the first two thirds of the movie. Maybe it’s because these characters are so cookie-cutter/unlikeable that I never got invested in their scenes of character development. I know I’m supposed to respect these scenes, but I couldn’t help but want to see the film kick back over to action and jokes.
What the film lacks in interesting heroes, it makes up for in interesting villains. Burnish has a weird love/hate relationship with nature, having deprived himself of it for several years following a falling-out that he took personally. He’s the same way around people, come to think of it. Zara’s loyalty to Burnish is never on solid footing, but it gets even less reliable as the film goes on. Burnish’s unnamed head of security gets to steal a few scenes. And while by no means a villain, a near-extinct creature called a Whooping Snake exists in Burnish’s camp solely to rattle the antagonist and tempt him into reconsidering that “near-” part.
“Abominable” is fine outside of Jin weighing it down. It doesn’t do as much wrong as the trailers suggest (at no point does Yi introduce Everest to the music of Taylor Swift or play Fleetwood Mac on her violin), but it isn’t terribly inspired either. There are gags and moments that work, but they’re exceptions, not the rule. If the kids really want to go to a movie, this is as good a choice as you’re going to find right now, but otherwise I’d say stay home and watch the sadly-overlooked “Missing Link,” one of the best films of the year.
“Abominable” is rated PG for some action and mild rude humor. Its running time is 97 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.