This well-intentioned film is based on a long-forgotten book whose story has been kicking around Hollywood for at least two decades. The resulting, much-revised script has been turned a nice but sub-optimal animated movie.
The hero is Mogi, a young, white-firred bigfoot (yeti, sasquatch, whatever) who lives in a happy community of similarly oversized Chewbaccas who live above the cloud line at the top of a Himalayan mountain.
Mogi’s community has an origin story — that it was pooped out by a larger being, which is less funny that it sounds — and customs. Each day begins when Mogi’s father, the designated gong ringer, catapults himself a great distance to set off a noise that awakens a sleepy snail (the sun, hahaha) that lights the world as it oozes across the sky.
The village leader is Stonekeeper, a wise man who administers the rules of the place, as received in images on stones. (Holy Moses!) The stones instruct that smallfoots (i.e., humans,) do not exist and that the known world ends at the clouds that sit below the village. Obedience is expected.
Mogi has followed the rules, but he succumbs to curiosity. With the help of other science-oriented yetis led by Stonekeeper’s cute and smart daughter, he journeys below the clouds and sees forests, an airplane and town of smallfoots.
The fun ignites when Mogi meets up with Percy Patterson, the front man for a film company whose documentaries are not selling. (This is illustrated when Percy performs his version of the1980s Queen song, “Under Pressure,” which apparently is a great favorite with the pre-K to elementary-school demo. FWIW, the rest of the film’s music is, well, meh.)
Integrity-challenged Percy has been planning to film a fake Bigfoot to promote his program, and naturally, he meets up with Mogi. The two make friends over time, then the story of the stones is revealed, then dangers arise and are averted, and then comes the happy ending.
Like Aesop’s fables long ago and animated offerings now, the story has a moral: “Be nice to other people and animals/primates of any size.” The more subtle themes — think for yourself, challenge authority, be skeptical of all dogma — may not resonate so much with small children but are standard grist for American drama. No reason not to start early, I guess.
The best “Smallfoot” scenes are interactions between humans and yetis, particularly when they talk to each other. Each group speaks its own English, but human ears register bigfoot talk as threatening growls; when yetis listen to smallfoots, the messages are indistinguishable squeaks.
Some famous actors and others voiced the characters in “Smallfoot,” including Channing Tatum, Danny De Vito and LeBron James. I’m sure that all did yeoman work with their lines, but I’m not sure it made much difference in the overall quality of the movie.
I watched “Smallfoot” in a theater with children aged four and up who seemed to enjoy themselves. In American animation these days, it could be worse.
“Smallfoot” is the fifth film from Warner Animation Group (WAG), which was founded in 2013. Three of its five releases have featured Lego characters, and at least one (perhaps two) future Lego movies are in the works. It’s difficult to see such projects as dramatic releases and not product promotion.
There’s nothing terrible about any of the WAG movies, but none comes close to the silliness and fun of Warner Bros.’ storied animation shops, Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes. I do hope children today are being introduced to Wile E. Coyote, Bugs Bunny, Tweety and the rest of the gang. Those cartoons were made for fun, not moral uplift or product promotion.
And while I’m on the topic, let me also mention the 100+ short films of The Three Stooges, which were released long ago by Columbia Pictures and are available now on many streaming services. These may look crude and insensitive, but I know for a fact that children love watching silly grownups when they are frustrated and let loose their ids.
Nyuk nyuk nyuk. Seriously.