Producers John Requa and Glenn Ficarra have generally kept a wide berth. That between their kid-friendly projects (“Storks,” “Cats & Dogs”) and their more adult material (“Bad Santa,” “I Love You Phillip Morris”). The best parts of “Smallfoot” see them finding a middle ground, espousing plot points and messaging that you don’t usually find in family fare.
Lurking within this animated tale of yetis and humans are such forward-thinking notions as. “Question everything, including religion,” “Governments use public safety as an excuse for misleading the populace. When they really just want to control people,” and “Tribalism benefits people in power more than the communities they claim to want to protect.”
Heady stuff for a mainstream cartoon. But unfortunately “Smallfoot” can’t bear the weight of its big ideas, saddled as it is with fairly mediocre animation. That mostly forgettable songs and a resolutely by-the-numbers screenplay by director Karey Kirkpatrick (“Over the Hedge”) and Clare Sera. This movie adapting Sergio Pablos’ book “Yeti Tracks.”
The original songs are a nice touch, but executive producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller can’t rescue the weak humor this time.
Phil Lord and Chris Miller may be executive producers on “Smallfoot,” but the movie feels like a pale imitation of their unique comedic energy. The double entendre-laden humor and catchy tunes that made “The LEGO Movie” a hit are woefully missing from “Smallfoot,”. that a musical that tries too hard to educate kids and not hard enough to entertain them.
The premise of “Smallfoot” is inventive enough — what if Bigfoot not only existed. But lived among a whole clan of other bigfeet in a highly advanced society on a mountaintop above the clouds? Such is the adorable village where we meet Migo (Channing Tatum). He is a simple gong-ringer’s son who wants nothing more than to grow up and continue his father’s (Danny DeVito) legacy. What, you may ask, is a gong-ringer?
It’s not good to ask too many questions in this village. But…the gong-ringer rings the gong every day to make the giant snail rise in the sky. Migo’s community keeps busy with a string of such seemingly meaningless chores. That as dictated by a robe of ancient stones that must never be questioned.
That is, until Migo stumbles into a fearsome creature only mentioned in tall tales — a “smallfoot.”
The “smallfoot” in question is, in fact, a fame-chasing British television host named Percy (James Corden). Whose enormous ego (and small feet) confirm that he is very much human. When Migo shares his discovery with the village, he is banished by the Stonekeeper (Common) for questioning the stones.
With the help of the village misfits, led by the Stonekeeper’s daughter Meechee (Zendaya). Migo heads below the clouds to find Percy and bring him back in order to prove his legitimacy.
“Smallfoot” excels most with its physical comedy, including a prolonged Looney Tunes-esque sequence that Migo falling from the sky. When Migo and Percy finally meet. Percy’s frenzied ravings hit Migo’s ears like adorable high-pitched squeaks to amusing effect.
The interspecies comedy reaches its peak with a gag about a fearsome bear’s roars. Which translates to Migo as a Mama Bear’s (Patricia Heaton!) impassioned fretting that she just got the kids to sleep and only has six months to rest.
“Smallfoot” boasts some epic voice talent.
But LeBron James, Gina Rodriguez and Yara Shahidi are wasted in under-written roles with few distinguishing characteristics (other than the tickling image of LeBron as a ridiculous puffy purple yeti.) Most memorable out of the band of misfits is Fleem (Ely Henry), simply because he has a personality, even if it’s just excessively irritating. The original songs are a nice touch, but never particularly memorable.
“Smallfoot” really flounders with its obligatory message-mongering: a hodgepodge of didacticism about the importance of celebrating differences, asking questions, never fearing the unknown, or judging someone because they look different. Plenty of sound lessons in there, to be sure, but without a singular focus, they all blend into one.
To the imaginary yetis of “Smallfoot,” humans are just as scary — if not scarier — than a hulking, hairy, roaring beast. In that way, writers Karey Kirkpatrick and Clare Sera put a mirror up to the baser instincts of humanity, and the reflection isn’t a pretty one. Unfortunately, the optimistic finale is too hurried to be fully convincing, and we’re left wondering whether Migo (and the audience) would have been better off staying up on his mountain.
Rating: PG (for some action, rude humor, and thematic elements)
Genre: Action & Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Kids & Family
Directed By: Karey Kirkpatrick
Stars: Channing Tatum, James Corden, Zendaya
Written By: Karey Kirkpatrick, Clare Sera, John Requa, Glenn Ficarra
In Theaters: Sep 28, 2018 Wide
On Disc/Streaming: Dec 11, 2018
Runtime: 109 minutes
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Beneath the easy slapstick, there’s a timely moral too: Don’t fear the unknown, embrace it. Just try not to squish it.
The conceit is nicely done, and the film’s unexpectedly heartfelt message about empathy and looking at the world through someone else’s eyes just about makes up for its bland animation, smart-arsed script and generic clappy-blah songs.
“Smallfoot” satisfyingly operates on multiple levels and is much deeper than it appears to be.
Smallfoot has its heart in the right place, and mostly works — managing to convey a pretty thoughtful lesson about tolerance, division and learning to see from the perspective of others within the loud, colorful, computer-rendered trappings of the genre.