One can see the headlines from certain media organizations:
“LEBRON JAMES MOVIE TELLS KIDS NOT TO BELIEVE IN ORGANIZED RELIGION!”
Not that “Smallfoot” is a LeBron James movie — although James does voice one of the characters in director/co-writer Karey Kirkpatrick’s animated adventure from Warner Bros.
And not that the movie actually tells kids not to believe in organized religion — but it IS set in village where all of the rules are literally written in stone, and anyone that dares question even the most fantastical, hard-to-believe dicta will be banished.
It’s not often an animated children’s movie features lessons about critical thinking, especially when the movie on the whole is a zippy, silly, zany, cheery little tale with the obligatory upbeat musical numbers, wonderfully entertaining voice work from the eclectic cast, and a gentle, PG tone with nary a sequence that will have the little ones scurrying for cover under your wing.
I loved the clever premise of “Smallfoot.” The main setting is an Arctic village high above the clouds populated by … Yetis.
As in, Abominable Snowmen. As in, the legendary, mythical Bigfoot creatures.
When we think of Bigfoot, or when explorers and adventurers (and hucksters) have claimed they’ve seen Bigfoot, it’s always “Bigfoot” singular, right? But come on, if there’s a Bigfoot, it stands to reason there’s a mama and a papa and whole bunch of other Bigfoots (Bigfeet!) out there.
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Sure enough, in this isolated, self-contained community, furry and friendly creatures of all sizes and shapes and ages share a peaceful, simple co-existence, where everyone has a job to do and nobody questions the authority of the king-like Stonekeeper (Common), who wears a giant robe containing hundreds of stones, each one containing one of the unassailable rules of the land.
According to the stones, the Yetis live on a bed of clouds — and beneath those clouds is an endless void of nothingness. Each morning just before dawn, the Yeti Dorgle (Danny DeVito) must catapult himself into the air and smash a gong with his head. The gong signals the Great Glowing Snail in the sky to appear and bring light to the village.
Oh, and there’s no such thing as a “Smallfoot” (aka a human). Only crackpots and loons and troublemakers would make such a ridiculous claim!
Channing Tatum voices Migo, the gong-ringer’s son who never questioned the Stonekeeper — until he actually spots a Smallfoot (a pilot whose plane has crashed) and runs back to the village to tell everyone what he’s seen.
When Migo refuses to back down from his claim — he won’t lie — the Stonekeeper banishes him from the village and says Migo can return only if he admits he made up the whole story.
Turns out Migo ISN’T the only villager who believes the Smallfoot exists. The Stonekeeper’s daughter, Meechee (Zendaya), and a lovable, outsized, goofy, purple Yeti named Gwangi (LeBron James) are among the members of a secret organization that believes in questioning the old ways, starting with the blanket assertion there’s nothing but nothingness beneath the clouds, and the Yeti are the only inhabitants of the world.
With the help of his new friends, Migo discovers a remote outpost populated by tiny Smallfoot creatures, including a TV travel show host named Percy (James Corden), whose career has bottomed out. The desperate Percy is just about to fake a Yeti sighting — he’s trying to get his producer to put on a Bigfoot costume — when he comes face to face with a real Yeti: Migo!
As Migo and Percy embark on a series of adventures and misadventures, they come to trust one another, even though when Migo speaks, it sounds like a series of ferocious roars to Percy, and when Percy speaks, it sounds like a tiny puppy barking.
We get some Looney Tunes-inspired slapstick comedy (hey, it’s a Warner Bros. movie), and Zendaya’s Meechee duets with Channing’s Migo for a catchy tune about how wonderful it is to ask questions, and in addition to the messages about questioning the status quo, there are the usual kid’s movie lessons about friendship and loyalty and being true to yourself.
The animation is solid but not spectacular. I kept thinking how cool it would have been if “Smallfoot” had been rendered in stop-motion animation, a la the classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” TV special from 1964 (which of course featured an Abominable Snowman.)
In any case, if you happen upon a Yeti one day, you should probably run for your life — but if you’re armed, before considering taking it down, consider the possibility it didn’t think YOU were real, either, until this moment.
And he might have some friends and family who are hoping he’ll come home soon.
Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Karey Kirkpatrick and written by Kirkpatrick and Clare Sera. Rated PG (for some action, rude humor and thematic elements). Running time: 96 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.