This is a good movie for children. It is beautifully shot and heartfelt and generous, all of which can make a viewer overlook a plot that is about as formulaic as it possibly can be.
It starts with Yi, a young teenaged girl whose father has died and left her a violin, a photograph and dreams of the big journey he and she had planned to take together.
Yi sets out to raise enough money to go on the trip herself. She keeps busy with small errands and avoids her mother, grandmother and friends.
One night, in her secret place on the roof of her building (probably in Shanghai,) she encounters a big white furry creature with kind eyes. It is a yeti that has escaped the clutches of an evil rich guy and his kidnapping goons.
Yi helps the yeti hide from helicopter searchlights, feeds him her grandmother’s pork buns and deduces that “home” for him is the Himalayas. She calls him Everest.
Then with two friends from her building — cool-guy Jin and Peng, Jin’s basketball-loving younger cousin — she sets out to take Everest back to his mommy and daddy.
The group flees to avoid capture by the Scrooge-like enemy, his witchy red-haired accomplice and the armed thugs who pursue the yeti and his friends in big amphibious vehicles.
The trek takes Yi’s team down beautiful rivers, to the Gobi Desert, through gorgeous fields of flowers and to a major Buddha statue in Sichuan. As Everest gets nearer his home, he demonstrates increasing magical powers over nature. So does Yi, who recognizes that this is the trip she had wished to share with her father. There is the comforting suggestion that the stars in a beautiful night sky are ancestors watching over their relatives on earth.
At a time when children’s movies include more than enough knowing references to pop culture and adult jokes, Abominable is sincere and generous. It gratifies young viewers’ wishes for kindness and cooperation. The plot tensions are overdone and awkward, but children will get the general themes and focus more on the triumphs of the Yi, Jin, Peng and their big, sweet furry friend.
Films in China
This movie is a hybrid, made by DreamWorks Animation in concert with Pearl Studio, a Chinese company. We probably will see more such projects because Hollywood is learning that it doesn’t understand the Asian market as well as it thinks it does. Examples:
— The 2001 film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, filmed in China by Taiwanese director Ang Lee, was very popular in Europe and North America, but not in Korea, Japan, Hong Kong or China.
— Twenty years ago, Disney’s animated Mulan, drawn from a Chinese legend, was rejected as not being Chinese enough; some saw it as “too individualistic.” Disney now is cuing up a live-action version (as it has done with The Jungle Book and The Lion King) that presumably will aim for greater authenticity.
On the other hand, Pixar’s 2017 film Coco, was very popular in China because its references to Mexicans’ ancestors and Day of the Dead events resonated with similar traditions in the Middle Kingdom.
— Since the turn of the millennium, American-made superhero movies have sold very well in China; Disney’s Marvel, among others, has shoehorned in Chinese characters and martial arts scenes to appeal to that market.
— Last year, Crazy Rich Asians, a very profitable romantic comedy about Chinese people in Singapore, surprised its makers when it fell flat in China. Still, a follow-up is planned — China Rich Girlfriend, which IS set in China.
There is another quirk in Chinese cinema: Certain outsiders are not welcome. Richard Gere, a popular actor in the 1980s and 1990s, has acknowledged that he has been blackballed by major film studios for his advocacy of human rights in Tibet. (China has dealt harshly with the Tibetan Autonomous Region since absorbing the area in 1950.) The studios are apparently unwilling to work with Gere even on films that will not be distributed in Asia for fear of Chinese reprisals.
The point isn’t that Gere is suffering — he still works in independent films. But China does not tolerate even mild forms of the noisy political back-and-forth that people take for granted in the US.