From Crazy Rich Asians, the first rom-com to feature an all Asian cast in 25 years, to Farewell, a movie about a Chinese American woman’s trip to her mother country that swept nominations and awards, Hollywood is seeing an ever-increasing portrayal of stories and characters that resonate with Asian Americans.
Succeeding Bao, a short animation based on a Chinese Canadian family, Abominable, a DreamWorks animation motion picture released in theaters on Sept. 27, tells the story of a modern Chinese family and made it to the list of movies I wanted to watch. However, despite its very recent release, I found myself walking into an empty theater and consequently, did not expect much of the movie.
Like most PG-rated animations, Abominable is filled with fairly simplistic humor and overly cute images of the characters, geared strictly towards children. Many parts made me smile, but there was never a laugh-out-loud “ha-ha” moment. Honestly I was pretty bored throughout the whole hour and a half. I was never a fan of animated movies, and this one did not convince me to think otherwise.
The main character, Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennet), is a hard working, honest teenager who calls herself a “self-proclaimed loner.” It’s summer vacation, and while her classmates are busy hanging out with each other and taking selfies, she works multiple part-time jobs to eventually fulfill her dream of traveling across China. Her father, who had promised to take the family, tragically passed away and left behind unkept promises. Yi, wanting to go on the trip as a tribute to her late father, saves all the money she earns. However, her busy life is interrupted by an unexpected intruder, a Yeti that had escaped a nearby lab.
It doesn’t take long for her to befriend the creature and figure out that he had originally come from Mount Everest. Partly on a whim and partly motivated by her desire to travel to China, she and her two neighbors-turned-partners-in-crime decide to embark on a journey to bring the Yeti, named Everest, back to its home and family.
In the beginning, a great emphasis is put on Yi’s grief for her father, someone who had shaped her attitude and behavior as an individual. However, I was disappointed to see the movie leave that emphasis undeveloped all throughout the story.
A picture of the two is shown multiple times, but besides that, her father plays no significant part in the rest of the plot. I definitely wanted to know more about their relationship and its impact on her life.
The adventure they take is, for the most part, a repetition of the three children and Everest being chased down by lab scientists, but managing to escape through Everest’s unexpected and omnipotent magical abilities. The protagonists barely succeed in escaping from the bad guys a few times before actually getting captured, and when everything seems futile, they eventually come out on top again and defeat the antagonists. If that doesn’t sound like a way-too-familiar, generic plot line, I don’t know what does.
This movie essentially checked all of the cliché boxes: a plot twist with an unexpected villain, a bad guy realizing the error of his ways, a death scare and a forced, emotional and somewhat sappy ending. While I could see the directors’ efforts in trying to capture both Chinese city life and the surrounding, beautiful landscapes, much of that also became cliché, not to mention that I was also a bit confused about the movie’s target audience.
I was, at times, somewhat convinced that the story was trying to integrate an Asian American voice. In attempts to make the movie relatable to both Asian and Asian American audiences, it ambiguously vacillated between the two.
Overall the plot is another variation of an action-packed, fantasy animation film with character growth, sudden revelations and a contrived theme. It was a dumbed-down Finding Nemo with a different backdrop.
Still, it was an undeniably cute movie with a heartwarming message about the importance of friendship and cooperation. I guess I wouldn’t not recommend it.