DreamWorks Animation has released a multitude of quality films over the past two decades, bringing to life a diverse array of projects that includes Chicken Run, The Prince of Egypt, and The Croods. However, the studio's celebrated tenure has been mostly marked by three key franchises, all of which found the balance of commercial success and the truly earnest, heartfelt storytelling that made rival Pixar such a powerhouse. Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon all sparked joy in the souls of audiences around the world and truly put their stamp on the expansive realm of animated film. Here's the problem for DreamWorks: all of these franchises have now concluded, at least on the big screen. The studio has a massive hole it now needs to fill with a potential multi-film franchise that tugs at the heartstrings of awards voters, appeals to a global audience, and sells a ton of toys. Fortunately for DreamWorks, it looks like Abominable is up to the task.
Abominable tells the story of a Chinese teenager named Yi (Chloe Bennet) who alienates herself from her mother and grandmother after the tragic death of her father. One night she comes across a young Yeti on the roof of her building and realizes that there are some very bad people trying to get their hands on him. Yi takes it upon herself, along with the help of friends Peng (Albert Tsai) and Jim (Tenzing Norgay Trainor), to return the Yeti back to his home on Mount Everest.
When the first images from the film were released online it was very easy to overlook it, but the timing could not have been worse for Abominable. This movie about an adorable Yeti came on the heels of a couple of lackluster, forgettable films about giant white creatures that live in the snow. It was very easy to hear about this movie and think, "Well here's another Smallfoot or Norm of the North." That said, all it took was one look at Abominable's cast and crew to realize that this was going to be different.
Abominable is written and directed by Jill Culton (co-directed by Todd Wilderman). If you're not familiar, Culton spent years working at Pixar, serving as a story artist and character artist on the first two Toy Story films and writing the story for Monsters, Inc. She then went on to co-write and co-direct the wildly-underrated Open Season. In other words, Jill Culton has a fantastic resume and body of work, and she proves just how great she's always been with this new film.
Abominable isn't going to permanently alter the fabric of animated filmmaking or anything like that and it's not without its own flaws. The themes of the importance of family and connecting to those around you are laid on very thick, with subtlety sometimes entirely absent. But the characters are so engaging and the story is so relatable that you never really seem to mind.
Each relationship explored in this film is meticulously crafted, from the uproarious friendship between Peng and Everest (the Yeti) to the all-too-familiar back and forth between Yi and her grandmother Nai Nai, every bond formed on screen feels real. When difficult subjects like loss and grief creep into the story, you feel safe for these characters because of the folks they have around them. All of these characters genuinely feel like family, and you don't see that too often.
It's those bonds that carry Abominable to new heights. Don't get me wrong, a lot about the film really works (the fresh animation style and use of music are both worth mentioning), but it's Culton's understanding of how we relate to one another that brings everything together in a soft, warm, Yeti hug. Once you get wrapped up in Abominable's loving embrace, there's a good chance you won't want to leave. Let's hope it has the opportunity to become the franchise it deserves to be.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Abominable is now playing in theaters.