147: Smallfoot Review

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2018 was an interesting year for animation marketing. Early in the year with Sherlock Gnomes, the first trailer for the film made it look awful. I haven’t seen if the scenes used in the first trailer were deleted or reworked, but the final product, while still a movie I didn’t care for, was not as awful as I was thinking it was going to be. It’s still not a great movie, but you wonder why the marketing team used those scenes when they wouldn’t be in the film in the first place. Sometimes, you get what they are marketing in trailers like Duck Duck Goose, Isle of Dogs, where the films were just as good or as bad as they were marketed. Sometimes, you even have trailers that undersell a film’s premise, like Ralph Breaks the Internet, Incredibles 2, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. That is what happened with Warner Bros. Smallfoot. Directed by Karey Kirkpatrick and animated by Sony Pictures Imageworks, Smallfoot came out September 28th, 2018 to pretty positive reviews. It underperformed in the US, but was more of a hit overseas. The trailers made it look like a goofier film than what the end product offered. I think if the trailers were more honest, the film would have done better. Why? Let’s see what happened.

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Smallfoot stars a yeti named Migo, voiced by Channing Tatum. He lives in a society of yetis that live at the upper-half of a high mountain in the Himalayas. Migo, along with everyone else in the village, believes in what is written on the stones that is worn by The Stonekeeper, voiced by Common. Migo lives a pretty good life with his father Dorgle, voiced by Danny DeVito, being the gong ringer of the village. One day, after doing a practice ring, he ends up outside the village and witnesses a plane crashing at the top of the mountain. While approaching it, he sees a human pop out, and gets excited/shocked to see one. In yeti culture, we humans are known as Smallfoots. After trying to show everyone the proof, he gets banished from the village, but then is recruited by a group of yetis known as S.E.S., if you are curious, that means Smallfoots Evidentiary Society. Its members include Kolka, voiced by Gina Rodriguez, Fleem, voiced by Ely Henry, Gwangi, voiced by LeBron James, and the leader Meechee, voiced by Zendaya. They plan to finally reveal the existence of humankind to the yeti world! While this is going on, a struggling animal documentary show host named Percy Patterson, voiced by James Corden, is desperate to try and find something to put his show back on top of the ratings. If you can already tell, Percy and Migo encounter one another, learn to be friends, and maybe find out why the yetis and humans live separately from one another. Can yetis and humans coexist?

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I think the first thing I want to talk about with this movie is the animation. Not that it is standing out like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, but more in how it is executed. Smallfoot has really good textures, great designs, fluid animation, incredible visual moments, and amusing physical comedy. So, what stands out about it? For a film that was marketed as a comedy, the animation is more slow-paced. It has its snappy moments, but the overall feel of the film’s comedy, writing, and story is much more like a Pixar/Disney film in execution than a traditional Warner Bros. comedy.

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It has a lot more quiet moments, and while there are many jokes and humor in the overall product, it’s shocking to see a non-Pixar/Disney film be more story-oriented. You can make great work with a more comedy-focused film, but that’s tough to do, and it feels like a weak scapegoat excuse to make a lackluster story in a middling comedy like the ones Illumination and DreamWorks make.

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It’s rather commendable to see Warner Bros. tackle something less focused on the comedy. The story itself is mostly about being true to yourself, not believing everything you are told, the dangerous power of lying or manipulating the ignorance of people, acceptance, and tolerance flow throughout the entire film. It may be head-scratching to see the main group of good yetis be conspiracy theorists, but, at least these theorists are actually interested in proof and not if frog people are running our government. Migo is a very likable character who may be a typical nice male lead, but you do sympathize with him wanting only the best for his kind. While you might not remember the names of the other characters, Migo works well among the conspiracy crew and the human characters. While James Corden’s character starts out fairly obnoxious, they do tone him down, and you understand his plight as well. Again, you might have seen this story and these characters before, but if you can execute them well, and make them pleasant, then that’s all you need to do. I even enjoy the fact that the film’s “antagonist” is not really evil. The villain is just doing what he thinks is best for the yetis, but not going down that path of killing off everyone for the greater good. Another thing that this film does that you don’t see many do outside of Disney films, is be a musical. Yeah, this wasn’t originally going to be a musical, but then six or so months into development, it became one. While no one is singing from the diaphragm, everyone sounds great. I mean, sure, hearing some of these songs after Teen Titans Go! To the Movies made fun of these songs, I won’t deny that I love Common’s song, Let it Lie. I listen to that song a lot to be honest. Again, I respect that Warner Bros. decided to do something different.

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So, what doesn’t work about Smallfoot? Well, while I like the music for this film, the songs are sort of forgettable. They sound nice, but I don’t remember the lyrics to a lot of them, and one of them is a different lyrical version of Under Pressure, which is lazy. By the way, that different version of Under Pressure is easily the weakest moment in the film. While the film isn’t really a full-blown comedy, a lot of the humor didn’t work for me. Not all of the jokes hit, and they really didn’t need the small annoying yeti. There is even a funny reoccurring joke that the small yeti is obnoxious and he sucks as a character. On one hand, they are easily some of the best jokes of the film. On the other hand, they are basically saying that this character is terrible, but still they have him in the movie. It’s one of those elements that feels so forced in family films that are usually never done right. It also hurts, because everyone else is really funny.

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Smallfoot might not be a big step in a unique or interesting way, but it’s a great and charming movie. It gets better the more I watch it, and I would dare say it’s better than Incredibles 2. It’s just another sad fact that it had to go against some heavy competition for the family audience during that period of time. It’s out now on Blu-ray and I recommend picking up a copy. Now then, it’s been on the chopping block for a long time, so how about we take a look at Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse next? It’s pretty much the best US-animated feature of 2018. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go see it!