This good-natured kids’ film mashes together several disparate themes to generally good effect.
Its star is Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman), an apparently well-funded British explorer, perhaps in the mold of Charles Darwin. Frost receives an unusual letter from a sasquatch who lives in the woods of the Pacific Northwest and who has taught himself to speak, read and post mail to London.
Frost takes his letter to the Optimates Club, an all-male gasbag group that Frost wants to join. He suggests that his correspondent may be the missing link between hairy primates and humans, an idea that enrages the science-denying bigshots.
“I say we are descended from great men, not great apes,” thunders the head Optie (Stephen Fry,) who also opposes electricity and, of course, women’s suffrage. He orders a feisty hit man named Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant) to follow and kill Frost and his sasquatch.
Upon arriving in the forest and meeting Mr. Link (Zach Galifianakis,) Frost learns the sasquatch is the only survivor of his group and yearns to meet his presumed cousins, the yetis of the Himalayas or, here, Shangri-La.
Sir Lionel sets out to help his new friend achieve his goal Such a project is fraught with problems, of course, including woodsmen horrified by an enormous hairy monster. After Mr. Link is outfitted in a loud plaid suit, the Optimates’ hit man takes aim. Then Link and Frost are joined by a really smart and brave woman, Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana,) who’s a dead shot with a pistol and who has the precious map that will lead them to Yeti Central.
The threesome set out in various conveyances (rail, ship, howdah) and against many, many obstacles to reach their goal, which is not resolved as planned but in a way that gratifies 21st century sensibilities about buddyhood and female agency.
The film was made with stop-action animation — frame-by-frame rearrangements of characters’ bodies and expressions (see below) — and augmented by computer-generated imagery and, I believe, at least some photography. The effect is exaggerated characters who are fun to watch against very detailed and often beautiful backgrounds.
Yetis seem to be trending now in films for children. Last year came Smallfoot; later this year, Dreamworks plans to release “Abominable.” Pretty clearly, the idea is to promote tolerance for individuals who are different — in these narratives, by human encounters with really nice legendary creatures that look like giant stuffed animals.
One term the film uses as a synonym for “sasquatch” is “skookum.” To this day, there arise periodic reports of skookum evidence found in the Pacific Northwest, rather as there are reports of the Loch Ness Monster, which also makes an appearance early in the movie.
In our 49th state, however, there is a more common use of the word “skookum,” which derives from the largely extinct Chinook language. If an Alaskan tells you a person is “skookum,” that’s high praise — implying strength, bravery and smarts.