When I first saw the trailers to both The LEGO Movie and Zootopia, each to me looked childish with humor practically designed to annoy me, then once seeing them respectively after the overwhelming praise came in, wow: the incredible comedic depth of The LEGO Movie blew me away, while Zootopia easily became my favorite movie of 2016! I was so impressed by how both communicated deep political themes in a fashion that kids can understand, something more animated films need to pay more attention to.
How does that relate to Smallfoot? Well, from the trailer alone, I expected surface-level substance made just for kids and nobody else, and the finished product is in fact a bit more than that. While not better than The LEGO Movie or Zootopia, the Warner Animation Group still provide surprisingly deep social commentary about border control, abuse of the working class, communication with differences, and even past religious influence on an economic climate.
The pale blue yeti colony upon a Himalayan mountaintop are not like the rising and setting sun they worship, they follow a strict belief system written on stone tablets; if it’s not written in stone (literally), it’s false. Yes, even if it means the stones say a yak’s anus created their mountain which giant mammoths hold up on their backs, they believe it. These folks are under the rule of a Stonekeeper who wears these laws. Those rough ancient stones make the Stonekeeper appear clung to past ideas that weigh him down, along with every worker who labor for nothing but to cover up a big political lie that could explain why there’s more clouds in the sky. That doesn’t make this land any more believable unfortunately: within this ice-behemoth utopia, the mammoths are dogs and the snails are lamps, which proves nothing more than servitude for the convenience of gags over common sense, much like any computer animation studio that isn’t Disney or Pixar.
Anyhow, the main character of the story, Migo, has a father who holds a crucial duty of headbutting a giant gong via slingshot morning after morning to wake the giant snail (sun) in the sky. His head is flattened from continual gong striking—a hazardous old tradition that Migo will someday assume. That’s why he feels a calling to something greater, something new, something that… starts with a slow-motion pratfall when he slips on snow. Yeah… there’s still a lot of cheap humor that makes the first two acts a little tedious. The blandness of the feature gets to be a bit more noticeable once Migo meets a human named Percy, or the mythical “smallfoot.” A language barrier prevents proper communication between these two as an attempt to drive the film’s heart, although not enough boosts their bond to the extent of WALL-E and EVE.
At least the architecture of rock murals influenced by the yetis’ mythological beliefs give some extra meaning in the visuals, including a yellow butterfly (representing new thinking) frozen inside a blue icicle (representing old thinking) focused on during one musical number. Yes, there’s numerous dull songs scattered throughout as if an attempt to rip off Disney, none of which are a “Circle of Life” or “Hakuna Matata” kind of deal. The staging of these songs is unimaginative too, as Percy at one point leads a love song surrounded by YouTube videos against blackness, which just looks forced. Also, the Stonekeeper raps, which doesn’t make sense considering he would have no way of knowing what such a music genre is. As much as the artists try to convey a love for nature, it can’t lift a story dragged by a constantly quick pace.
Though the well-done animation itself does masterfully blow Migo’s hair to a thick blizzard that blankets the view, much more attractive than anything similar from twenty years ago. Plus, the facial expressions are just right, unhidden and memorable to enhance some nice laughs scattered throughout. One of the more notable examples includes a toilet paper roll dubbed a “scroll of invisible wisdom,” plenty funny enough to sustain excitement. But those genuinely funny moments are far from consistent, as the poor directorial pacing ends numerous jokes way too soon for an effective punchline. The direction suffers a bit too from the painful slapstick that defies physics: Migo’s rubbery body survives falling 500 feet then getting sandwiched between two rock pillars. Yeah, it’s a cartoon, but such a lack of care in establishing real danger removes all tension.
That’s really the whole kit-and-kaboodle of Smallfoot: despite how its main human character plans to fake yeti sightings for the sake of viewers, there’s still the other useless plot devices, such as a dead mother, that stop this butterfly from fully emerging from its chrysalis. Therefore, the harmless entertainment will keep the kids entertained, with just enough depth to make the parents not tear their hair out; and that’s the truth.