Updated: Feb 7, 2020
Smallfoot (adapted from the book “Yeti Tracks” by Sergio Pablos) is a bright and lively animated family musical-comedy about a yeti who discovers a human being. The premise is promising, the songs are okay, if forgettable and the voice cast is energetic. But it is all put to use in the service of a very unoriginal, paint-by-numbers, plot about honesty, being true to yourself, selflessness and other kid-friendly themes. It is inoffensive (it even limits its poop jokes to just a couple, which is pretty impressive for a children’s movie) and fast-moving, so kids will probably enjoy it. Adults will be able to predict where the story is going after about ten minutes. It is not bad, however it is not going to excite anyone either. We have all seen most of this done better in the past.
The protagonist is Migo, a yeti brought up in an advanced civilization that follows the laws set down by their elders on stone tablets the leader wears as a robe. Whatever is on those stones must never be questioned. One of the stones says there is no such thing as a smallfoot (their term for human beings), so when Migo stumbles upon one it turns his entire belief system on its head. Does that mean everything is a lie? The only way to learn the truth is to find the smallfoot again. This causes him to set off on a mildly diverting, though not totally interesting, adventure.
Smallfoot (88 minutes, minus the end credits), in the tradition of a lot of Disney cartoons, sticks viewers in the POV of the yeti and makes humans the exotic other. We get a couple of scenes establishing the main human character (selfish nature show host Percy) and he does get a bit of a character arc, but the focus is predominantly on the yetis. Migo is our entry point into this world. By making him friendly, likable and relatable, the movie gets us to side with him before any humans are introduced. This way, viewers get used to the yeti culture so the humans seem almost as strange to us as they are to them.
I kind of liked that approach. It works for this story. Smallfoot just does not do very much with it. There are several clever ideas in the creation of the yeti village and some of their customs, which I will not spoil here. I also appreciated the talent of the voice cast. Channing Tatum is surprisingly pleasant as the childlike Migo. He gets a nice assist from his supporting cast, specifically Common as the village leader, Danny Devito as Migo’s father and Zendaya, LeBron James, Gina Rodriguez and Ely Henry as his friends. James Corden is kind of wasted as Percy; the character is more important as a symbol than as a personality. They did make me laugh a few times, especially Tatum, DeVito and James, who seems to have a second successful career lined up once his basketball days are over.
Overall, Smallfoot is a movie families can go to and all have a decent time together. Stretches are amusing, but it never engaged my imagination or emotions like the best family films have. This year alone we have had Paddington 2, Early Man, The Incredibles 2, Teen Titans Go! To The Movies and last week’s The House with a Clock in its Walls. Not all of them are great, but they are all smart, fun and creative. They feel like their creators remembered the type of entertainment they watched when they were kids and wanted to replicate it in their own way, with passion. Smallfoot, while occasionally those things, far too often comes off as if its creators were going through the motions.
2¾ out of 5
Channing Tatum as Migo
James Corden as Percy
Zendaya as Meechee
Common as Stonekeeper
Danny DeVito as Dorgle
LeBron James as Gwangi
Gina Rodriguez as Kolka
Ely Henry as Fleem
Directed by Karey Kirkpatrick and Jason Reisig (co-director)
Screenplay by Karey Kirkpatrick and Clare Sera