Yeti or not, here comes “Smallfoot” – a new animated movie musical from Warner Bros. that gives the Bigfoot legend a complete makeover.
Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum) is a YA yeti who opens “Smallfoot” with a song. He introduces us to his yeti village which is picture perfect. Such an unoriginal beginning (done so many times before, from “Beauty and the Beast” to WB’s own “The LEGO Movie”) doesn’t help get “Smallfoot” off to a promising start.We soon meet Migo’s dad (Danny DeVito), who head-butts the giant golden gong to signal the start of the day. There’s also the wise village leader – The Stonekeeper (Common) and his daughter (Zendaya). In this yeti land high in the Himalayas – everything IS awesome – at least on the surface.
While he’s wandering outside the village, Migo witnesses a plane crash. The human (aka a Smallfoot) pilot encounters the yeti briefly before being blown away. Migo returns to the village with the big news: Smallfoots do exist! And this causes a major problem, as the Stonekeeper has been trying to keep his villagers in the dark about the existence of humans in order to… well…I don’t want to give too much away but you can likely figure out where this is going.
Meantime, Percy, the host of a struggling TV wildlife adventure show (and voiced by real-life TV host James Corden) learns of the yeti sighting. He needs footage of the Bigfoot to save his career. Corden also gets a showcase song – a changed-up version of David Bowie’s classic “Under Pressure”. It’s not good.
It’s the relationship between Percy and Migo that’s at the heart of “Smallfoot”. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t have much heart.
“Over the Hedge” co-director Karey Kirkpatrick is story developer, screenwriter, songwriter and director of “Smallfoot”. That’s a lot of hats for one person to wear, and he only succeeds partially in all those roles. The first half is fairly flat. The humor is low-brow and basic, relying on physical stunts and pratfalls. The script doesn’t include a single, genuinely clever line. All of the characters are cookie cutter, including the wisecracking sidekick and comic-relief animal. All of this is geared to the 8 and under crowd.
At the halfway mark, Common gets his song – a rap titled “Let it Lie”. It distinctly changes the dynamic and purpose of “Smallfoot”. It becomes evident (if you’re a little older than 8), that Kirkpatrick’s movie is now dealing with some pretty serious themes, such as race relations, animal rights and the current political atmosphere in the world. I give the writer/director credit for shifting in this direction and trying to make his film stand for more than silly entertainment. But unlike “Zootopia”, which brilliantly attacked similar issues, “Smallfoot” doesn’t go far enough to elevate to that higher level.
The voice work is fine. The cast also includes an almost unrecognizable LeBron James as one of Migo’s rebel friends. If there’s anyone who doesn’t fit well it’s Corden, who has become too overexposed in animated roles. “Smallfoot” does have a nice look. The characters and their environments are impressive. And the music – songs and score – is memorable (mostly for good reasons). The problem with “Smallfoot” is that it’s simply not entertaining enough for either of the demos it’s going after: not goofy-funny enough for little kids and not clever-funny enough for older kids and adults.
“Smallfoot” has some big aspirations, but by the end they’re “Sa-squashed” by a script that didn’t believe strongly enough in what it had to say.