These days, animated films are not only designed to keep adults and children entertained but film companies like DreamWorks and Pixar compete with each other for the holiest of grails – an Academy Award.
The latest film out of the DreamWorks theatre is Abominable – a film that not only shows that DreamWorks has now moved well ahead of Pixar in the animation war but a film that looks so beautiful it feels like it should be hanging on the wall of an art gallery somewhere in Paris.
The story of Abominable is a simple one. A young Chinese girl called Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennet) is having a rough time in her life. Since her father’s death, she has had trouble finding time to spend with her mother (Michelle Wong) and her grandmother (Tsai Chin). Instead, she spends her time doing any odd jobs she can in order to make enough money to go on the trip around China that her father promised her.
But her life is suddenly turned upside down one night. When playing her father’s violin on the roof of her apartment building, she discovers a young Yeti whom she names Everest (Joseph Izzo). She soon realises that Everest just wants to return home to Mount Everest but he is being pursued by a businessman named Burnish (Eddie Izzard) and his resident scientist Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson) who plan on using Everest as a money-maker.
Determined to get Everest home, Yi begins the journey of a lifetime and ends up taking her friends Peng (Albert Tsai) and Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) with her... despite their protests.
Although simple in nature, the plot of Abominable packs a harder punch than expected. The story of Yi’s life falling apart after the death of her father tugs at the heartstrings throughout. The film also explores issues such as humans using animals for profit and, in the case of Jin, how social media can make its users narcissistic and judgemental without them even realising it. In fact, Jin’s story is one of the most powerful in the film as his journey across China sees him adapt to life without social media and his mobile phone, a theme not often explored on the big screen.
While story-wise Abominable is the kind of film that will appeal to both children and adults alike, the thing that will impress most cinemagoers will be the look of the film. The film’s beauty lifts it to a whole new level. From beautiful sequences of Yi playing music on an urban rooftop with sweeping cityscapes behind her, to the amazing scenes which see the animators catch China’s natural beauty in such a way that it almost feels like you are watching a documentary. Then there are the times when Everest’s magic ends up with some amazing supernatural sequences that wash over the audience in moments of true beauty.
Co-directors Jill Culton and Todd Wilderman have limited experience when it comes to directing together but have worked on films such as Monsters Inc., The Croods and Stuart Little between them. That mix of working on some of the biggest animated films of all time explains how they have the knowledge to put together a masterpiece like Abominable. The duo know the key to making a film like this is to use something like a cute and fluffy Yeti to win over the kids, and important themes and stunning visuals to make the film a favourite with adults as well.
The other secret to the film working so well is something that most animated filmmakers wouldn’t even think of. Apart from the two “baddies”, most of the characters in Abominable are voiced by virtually unrecognisable actors and actresses. That means the audience can become totally engrossed with the film as they watch it rather than be sitting there and thinking, “Wait is that Matt Damon?” Sure, it means there are no big names on the poster, but it does enhance the fantasy a little more for the audience.
For many film lovers, Abominable will be one of the sleeper hits of 2019. With little fanfare surrounding the film, most people will watch it not expecting much but end up being blown away by a film that entertains while exploring serious themes plus has a visual styling that will make sure it is seen as true animated gold.
David Griffiths has been working as a film and music reviewer for over 20 years. That time has seen him work in radio, television and in print. You can follow him at www.facebook.com/subcultureentertainmentaus