The first major co-production between DreamWorks and China’s Pearl Studio, Abominable — a warm and fuzzy animated guide book they could have titled How to Train Your Yeti — is good family fun as far it goes. It also could have gone further. The Chinese setting and characters are welcome and beautifully rendered, as is the film’s human protagonist, Yi (scrappily voiced by Chloe Bennett), a teen girl who’s been hit hard by the death of her father. It’s not that her strict mother (Michelle Wong) and dumpling-making grandmother (Tsai Chin) don’t bring on the love. They do. But they can’t replace the dad who taught the young woman how to play the violin and filled her head with his own dreams of traveling to places like the Himalayas.
Yi needs something else to bring focus to her life. And she finds it in the Yeti (Joseph Izzo) on the roof of her apartment building. The poor thing is on the run. There’s nothing abominable about the mythical creature she discovers as depicted here — the Adorable Snowman is more like it. Yi calls him Everest, after the mountain home to which the beast longs to return. Standing in his way are Burnish (Eddie Izzard, always a treat), the entrepreneur who captured Everest for experiments, and his nasty second-in-command Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson) who only pretends to be nice.
Our heroine isn’t fooled however, and neither are her besties, tiny Peng (Albert Tsai) and the arrogant stud Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor — the grandson of Tenzing Norgay, one of the first men to reach the summit of Everest). The trio makes the journey from the streets of Shanghai across the Gobi desert to the cliffs and mountains where Everest hopes to be reunited with his parents. It should be mentioned that writer-director Jill Culton (Open Season) is the first woman to solo direct an animation feature with a female lead. Abominable has all the ingredients to reach the heights, but the play-it-safe script keeps it slipping and sliding at a far distance from the summit.
It’s not a total write-off: There’s a moment of surpassing loveliness when Yi plays her violin at the Leshan Giant Buddha in Sichuan. And you’ll laugh at the scenes with the whopping snakes and feel a touch of magic when Everest uses his vocal rumble to create visual wonders. Sadly, Abominable fails to carve out its own place in a crowded field. The movie huffs and puffs, but there’s no fear of any houses being blown down.