Abominable: Soft-hearted, animated Yeti-goes-home adventure is charming, with a dash of bittersweetness

By Karen Gordon

Rating: B-plus

If you’ve been looking for a sweet film for your tweens, and they’ve been in relatively short supply this summer, then you’re in luck this weekend with the animated Dreamworks movie Abominable.

The movie follows 16-year-old Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennet) who lives with her Mom and her Nai-Nai (Grandmother) in an apartment in Shanghai.  

Yi, and her friends Jin and Peng escort their pal Everest back to his Himalayan home in Abominable

Yi, and her friends Jin and Peng escort their pal Everest back to his Himalayan home in Abominable

Nai-Nai is always trying to tempt her intto spendingtime with them via her wonderful cooking. But Yi resists in favour of spending time alone at a little room she’s set up for herself on the roof of her building.  That’s where she can be alone to mourn her musician father who has recently died. She keeps photos, postcards and, more importantly, his violin, which she plays to feel close to him and to soothe herself.

And it’s in that sanctuary that she discovers a Yeti who is trying to hide from helicopters circling the city. 

He’s escaped from a holding facility owned by a mega wealthy adventurer, named Burnish (Eddie Izzard). And his advisor, zoologist Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson) is determined to recapture him.

Yi instinctively protects the Yeti from their view.  When she sees how he responds to her violin playing, she sees that there’s nothing to fear from this furry giant, and the two bond.  
Yi has no idea what he is, but when she sees him looking longingly at a billboard advertising a trip to Mount Everest, she figures out that that’s his home.  She names him in honour of the mountain, and strikes a plan to help him escape the city and get home again.

Just as she’s setting out, two of her friends from downstairs in the same building get swept up in the mission to get Everest home: The cool, selfie-loving and sneaker/image obsessed Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor), and his younger, fun loving cousin Peng (Albert Tsai) seem like unlikely companions, but they insist. 

Yi has a plan to get Everest of out town, but it’s quickly clear that he’s going to need much more help shaking off the persistent Dr. Zara and her paramilitary helpers. And so, begins their adventure to the Himalayas. 

Abominable” is written by Jill Culton who co-directed it with Todd Wilderman.  Culton is an animation veteran, who cut her teeth at Pixar, working in both animation and story on some of Pixar’s most popular films, like Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story, before moving to animation projects at Industrial Light and Magic, Sony, and now Dreamworks Animation. She knows her way around films that charm and that can layer in meaning without being heavyhanded.   And that’s key here. 

Abominable is, in many ways, a very standard animated kids movie, three well defined characters who are contemporary teens and tweens (four if you count Everest). Doing the right thing sets them on an adventure that changes all of them in subtle ways.

But it goes deeper. Yi is dealing with the death of her father.  She’s managing her sadness by pulling away from everyone, isolating herself even her mother and Nai-Nai.  

It’s not an easy thing to work into an animated family movie.

But with Abominable, Culton finds the right balance so that the story deals with Yi’s feelings respectfully and without dominating the tone of the movie.  

Abominable. Directed Jill Culton and Todd Wilderman. Written by Culton. Starring the voices of Chloe Bennet, Eddie Izzard and Sarah Paulson. Opens wide, Friday, September 27.