Friday 26 October 2018

Super-furry animals: "Smallfoot"

Given the wondrous, often fantastical array of flora and fauna our digimators have arrived at since the revolution of Pixar's Toy Story two decades back, it's something of a surprise no-one's yet got round to Yetis. They've come close: with the shaggier beasts of the Ice Age franchise, and one could perhaps argue that Monsters, Inc.'s beloved Sully was in some ways an indoors-Yeti. Yet Warner Bros.'s new film Smallfoot showcases mainstream American animation's first self-identifying Bigfoot: Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum), resident of a community of these furry not-quite-monsters high in the Himalayas, whose laws are literally inscribed in stone, and who've convinced themselves there is nothing beyond their immediate lost horizon. A plane crash only Migo witnesses presents evidence to the contrary, however, and soon our hero has become a pariah among his tribe for floating the existence of so-called "smallfoots" (i.e. human beings). Like a hairier Moana, he will eventually be forced out on a quest to disprove the received wisdom of his elders.

Director Karey Kilpatrick's sole previous animated credit was for DreamWorks' 2006 title Over the Hedge, which stands among the most undervalued of those first-wave digimations: a consumerism fable centred on critters going through suburban bins, it announced this filmmaker as a gagsmith capable of lightly mocking societal norms without skimping on those elements - the furry things, the songs, the pratfalls - enjoyed by young viewers. Smallfoot feels a tad basic in comparison. Successive acts carry Migo to the bottom of the mountain and back again, and Warners' three-quarters-formed animation arm can only lend the view from the top a fraction of the bustle and colour a Pixar story would surely have gifted us. (Parents who are still recovering from February's Peter Rabbit should also be aware that Migo's point of human contact is a wildlife presenter voiced by The Ubiquitous James Corden.)

Nevertheless, a lot of likable work was clearly put in at the writing and composition stage. The songs - broadly measuring up to Ben Folds' tunes for Hedge - are very solid, and occasionally (as in a potted Yeti history rapped by Common after the manner of Gary Byrd's "The Crown") inspired. The script, bearing input from the reliable Glenn Ficarra/John Requa double-act (Bad Santa), sets loose a number of amusing running jokes (the Yetis refer to discarded human toilet rolls as "scrolls of infinite wisdom") while cuing zippy, Looney Tunes-level setpieces involving Yetis on bridges and Yetis catapulting themselves into gongs. When Migo's pa Dorgle (Danny DeVito) advises his charge "check your aim is true, and remember - whatever you do - you have to hit [the target] head on" before one such flight, Smallfoot appears to be constructing a sly metaphor for seeking out and confronting sometimes harsh truths about the world, nudging its impressionable young viewership towards asking questions, gathering knowledge, and trusting the science while keeping an open mind. There are probably no-marks wasting their lives getting furious about the film on the Net as we speak.

Smallfoot is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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