Abominable: Believe in Magic, by David Bax
Jill Culton (2006’s Open Season) establishes her skills as both writer and director early on in Abominable. In a lively and largely wordless sequence detailing how she spends an average day of her summer vacation, we learn everything we need to know about Yi, our protagonist. Her desires, her fears, her sadness and her dogged determination; all of it is perfectly understood through action and imagery. And Culton will only further expand on her characters–and the evidence of her talent as a visual storyteller–as Abominable goes on.
Yi (Chloe Bennet) is a Shanghai teenager who lives with her mom and grandmother and has no friends, unless you count Peng (Albert Tsai), a young boy who lives in her apartment building and seems to have even less of a social life than she does. When a yeti, having escaped captivity at the hands of an arrogant adventurer (Eddie Izzard), hides from helicopter searchlights on the rooftop above Yi’s bedroom, she feeds him, dresses his wounds, befriends him and decides to help him get back to his Mount Everest home undetected. Impulsively, Peng invites himself along and then, begrudgingly, Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor), Peng’s shallow older cousin, joins them as a kind of babysitter.
Izzard’s Mr. Burnish, with his pelts and his insistence on possessing rare animals, presents a hunter-as-colonizer metaphor. Yet, while the history of U.K.-China relations is complex enough to support plenty of movies, Culton’s message is more straightforward. Simply put, Abominable is an assertion that no one has a right to anyone else’s culture.
Still, Abominable is not a plain-stated “message” movie in the mode of a somewhat recent (and still quite good) animated film like Zootopia. The category into which it most fits, in fact, is that of the adventure tale. Once Yi and the yeti (voiced by Joseph Izzo) meet, Abominable is largely comprised of one chase sequence after another. These are not, thankfully, of the empty, computer-generated whiz-bangery sort typified in movies like The Grinch or UglyDolls. Each set-piece is distinct, imaginative, motivated and good, thrilling fun.
Certainly, Abominable is more adventure movie than comedy. Too many of the film’s “jokes” are just ironic comments on the events transpiring (“Really, Dave?” goes one representative sample). What laughs are present come mostly from the instances of pure silliness. For all of Culton’s attempts to craft clever quips, I was most tickled by a goofy snake that keeps popping up unexpectedly, reminding me of the chicken from Moana.
Abominable‘s most powerful and impactful ingredient is its nearly unceasing visual beauty. Yi and company’s journey across China gives Culton opportunities to recreate the natural world in animation, not unlike Finding Nemo did. But she doesn’t stop there; she exaggerates nature to the point of psychedelia, from blueberries the size of medicine balls to literal rolling hills. Culton and her characters discover that nature’s beauty can be so overwhelming–especially when it comes in the quantities that stars, flowers and even bugs do–that it is indistinguishable from magic.