September 30, 2018
In order to reach the bar set by animation powerhouses Pixar and Dreamworks, Warner Animation Group (whose previous endeavors consist of three Lego movies and the underwhelming Storks) really needed to step up their game. With Smallfoot, they do just that. This fun tale about a young snow monster named Migo (Channing Tatum), whose discovery of a human “smallfoot” causes him to question all of the blissfully ignorant beliefs of his Yeti community, has everything you want in a kids movie.
Smallfoot is also Warner Animation Group’s first musical film, and the music is actually really good, especially Zendaya’s soaring ode to curiosity “Wonderful Life” and Common’s “Let it Lie,” a foreboding rap breakdown of Yeti history. Hip hop is not a genre represented very often in animated kids movies (I don’t think we should count Quad City DJ’s “Space Jam”) but it works brilliantly here.
The visuals are exceptional in all their furry detail and vibrant colors abound. Kids will love the overload of slapstick, the type of Wile E. Coyote physical comedy that was heavily featured in the old Warner Bros. Looney Tunes classics, and there are plenty of smart winks to keep adults entertained as well. In addition to Tatum, Zendaya, and Common, the voice cast is full of funny turns from the likes of James Corden, Danny DeVito, and even LeBron James in his first role as a character other than himself.
There is also an abundance of positive messages. When Migo begins to challenge the sacred rocks on which all Yeti lore and laws are inscribed, he is accused of “going against the stones,” which is like being labeled a heretic in ancient Rome or a “fake news” spouter in Trump times. Migo must persevere and overcome the insistence of the elders of his village that he simply “push down” his troubling thoughts. Alas, his yearning for truth and a sense of purpose are too strong.
Corden’s character, Percy, the host of a nature TV show, also has an interesting arc. As he encounters the mythical Yeti, he not only learns about standing up for those who are misunderstood, but his quest for social media likes and higher ratings clash with his conscience in a recurring theme of fame vs. integrity. This subplot, with its extensive use of smartphones and technology, does cause one to wonder how well this film will hold up in the future, compared to a timeless classic like, say, The Lion King.
Smallfoot might not be as cleverly rendered as Toy Story or Inside Out and Pixar may still be the reigning champ, but Warner is now a considerable contender.
Star Rating: 3 out of 5