Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Movie Review: Smallfoot

Smallfoot *** / *****
Directed by: Karey Kirkpatrick and Jason Reisig.
Written by: Karey Kirkpatrick and Clare Sera and John Requa & Glenn Ficarra based on the book by Sergio Pablos.
Starring: Channing Tatum (Migo), James Corden (Percy), Zendaya (Meechee), Gina Rodriguez (Kolka), Danny DeVito (Dorgle), Common (Stonekeeper), Yara Shahidi (Brenda), Jimmy Tatro (Thorp), LeBron James (Gwangi), Ely Henry (Fleem).
Most children’s movies have a simple lesson at their core – and more often than not, it’s a version of “just be yourself”. To a certain extent, that is the message of Smallfoot as well – but it’s wrapped in a more complicated message as well – one that can be read as an attack on religion, encouraging children in the audience to not just blindly accept everything they are taught, and instead question everything in the search for truth. Of course, Smallfoot is still an animated comedy aimed at children – and a relatively silly one at that, full of goofy slapstick, that mostly works, and forgettable songs that mostly don’t. If it weren’t for that core message, then Smallfoot would probably be instantly forgettable – but with it, it stands out just a little bit.
The film takes place in a village of Yetis, which is located high up in the mountains, above the clouds. You don’t go below the clouds because, of course, there’s nothing down there – the mountain rests on the back of yaks you see. This, and the other rules, are all inscribed on stone tablets the Stonekeeper (Common) wears as his literal robe – and they dictate everything the yetis do – from feeding ice balls down huge shoots to feed those yaks, to ringing a giant gong every morning to wake up the sun snail to bring them light. This job belongs to Dorgle (Danny DeVito) who quite literally slingshots himself across the sky and rings the gong with his head. His son, Migo (Channing Tatum) is our main character – and one day, he will have the privilege of ringing that gong himself. That is, of course, before he sees a monster – a so called smallfoot, which the stones say do not exist, and Migo cannot prove that he saw one. But he knows what he knows, and starts to wonder if the stones could be wrong about that, what else could they be wrong about? Eventually he’ll journey below the clouds – and come back with a smallfoot for all to see. This is Percy (James Corden), the host of an unpopular nature documentary show – who thinks that by documenting yetis, he can get back on top again. But of course, Migo and Percy eventually become friends – and a debate about who the real monsters – yetis or humans – will need to be had.
As animated kids far go, Smallfoot isn’t bad – but it is decidedly mediocre. The visuals aren’t quite up to the top level of this sort of film – which undercuts some great visual gags throughout the film, because to be honest the character design, etc. looks kind of cheap. There also a lot of songs throughout the film – and while the people singing them are decent enough – Tatum isn’t great, but he’s fine – although Zendaya, as the chief’s daughter/smallfoot truther/love interest is better. Your feelings on James Corden, either positive or negative, will largely be confirmed with his karaoke rendition of Under Pressure, with different lyrics. The plot, about two separate worlds coming into contact with each other, is the stuff that animated films have been doing for decades – and while there’s nothing new here exactly, it’s done well enough. There are more than enough goofy gags throughout that kids are going to have fun with the movie (now is the obligatory time in the review that I mention my seven and four-year-old daughters both really enjoyed the film).
It’s that message of the film though – that spirit of telling kids to question what they are taught in searching for some higher truth that made the film stand out to me though. Those in power use fear to keep that power, even as they wrap it up in a message of being for the greater good. Of course, this is the kid’s version of that lesson – it doesn’t go too dark, but I appreciated the message even in this kid friendly form. It makes Smallfoot just different enough to not be completely forgettable.

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