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As a fan of animation, DreamWorks Animation is in a creative and frustrating situation, and that has always been the case since it was founded. It is an animation studio founded upon bitter petty anger and a lineup of films trying to beat out Disney and Pixar at every turn for no other reason than to try and make edgier versions of the former studio’s films. Sure, at around the latter half of the 2000s, they started to course-correct, and now they have a solid lineup of really good movies. Shrek 2, Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, the Kung Fu Panda Trilogy, Captain Underpants, and the How to Train Your Dragon films are all some of the best films that have come out of this studio. Though they have slightly course-corrected, the stench of the bitter anger towards Disney still looms, and you can argue that DreamWorks doesn’t have an identity.
Out of all the studios making feature animation in the US, what makes them different than Illumination, Sony Pictures Animation, and Blue Sky Studios? I mean, you can tell a difference, but that’s only if you know what kind of films each studio makes. To me, DreamWorks was always at their best when they focused on story and character with a dash of comedy thrown in when needed. They do well with smaller character moments, and that’s no different here with their newest film, Abominable. Directed by Jill Culton and co-directed by Todd Wilderman, Abominable is DreamWorks’ first major co-production collaborative effort with a Chinese studio, Pearl Studio. I mean, they used to own this studio until a Chinese company, CMC, bought the stakes and rights to Pearl Studio from Universal. So, with this being the third yeti movie in two years, how is it? Well, let’s find out the mysteries of this zoological wonder.
Our story revolves around a teen girl named Yi, voiced by Chloe Bennet. She’s a tough working girl who is still getting over the loss of her father. While taking multiple small jobs, she also enjoys hanging out on the rooftop of her building and playing the violin. One evening, she finds something on top of her home building, and it turns out to be an actual yeti! She then makes it her goal to return the yeti, who she has named Everest, back to his home with the help of her friends Jin, voiced by Tenzing Norgay, and Peng, voiced by Albert Tsai. This is all the while, avoiding a rich billionaire named Burnish, voiced by Eddie Izzard and a zoologist named Zara, voiced by Sarah Paulson.
So, with a film like this, where most critics seem to think it’s just okay, I try to look at what Abominable does well in terms of a DreamWorks film. The biggest problem most DreamWorks films suffer from is that the overall story is not the best part. That’s pretty much the same here with Abominable, but I found myself being more charmed by the smaller character interactions, like Peng and Everest, Everest with Jin, Peng, and Yi, and Burnish, the stereotypical billionaire has little sequences that give him more depth. The film’s theme is obviously about living life and family, and while that’s nothing new, the interactions during the overall story make the trip worthwhile. It also helps that the other human teen/kid characters end up being likable in their own way. Li is probably the most annoying out of the three, but once he realizes what he has to do with his coming-of-age story arc, he has some of the better jokes in the entire film. While there is a slightly comedic edge to the story, it’s also a much quieter film. Sure, it has its family-friendly antics, and the goons do provide a lot of comedic relief, it’s a film that isn’t afraid to simply stop for a moment and let the characters talk and breathe.
Animation-wise, the visuals are downright gorgeous. Seriously, while it might not be on the level of Disney and Pixar’s photo-realistic textures, the scenes and locations the gang travel to are beautiful. They remind me of those old travel ads or a Planet Earth-style documentary. Despite having a supposed budget of $75 mil, Abominable is one of the most visually beautiful films of 2019. The lush landscapes, stunning color palette, and wonderful VFX effects are very well-executed.
I might be one of the more supportive fans of this film, but I do have some issues with it. It’s a simple film, and that’s not a bad thing, but there could have been a lot more meat on the bones of the story and themes. It’s a film that could have easily been 30 minutes longer to expand on some of the themes and scenes. While the film has some pretty good comedy, the jokes that they show off in the trailer are still the worst in the film. They don’t pop up like that all of the time, but I would say the first third has the worst jokes of the entire film. Thankfully, they don’t do that Taylor Swift scene that you see in the trailer that was shown in theaters before the main trailer, but there could have been better comedic moments that could replace the blueberry butt joke.
While it might not hit the emotional points of How to Train Your Dragon or Kung Fu Panda, I would consider Abominable to be one of the better films in the DreamWorks catalog. I think people will come back to it more than once depending on how everyone feels about Trolls World Tour and The Croods 2 coming out next year. Still, despite having a shaky experience with inconsistent moments of quality, I’m happy DreamWorks is still around, and from time to time, they will come back to making more character-driven experiences. Plus, this is a good sign for Pearl Studios, as they will be releasing Glen Keane’s newest film, Over the Moon, next year for Netflix. To me, this shows that this is another example of China’s current commitment to high-quality animation. Now then, let’s snap our fingers and next time, we will check out The Addam’s Family Movie.
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Rating: Go See It!