Dir. Karey Kirkpatrick, Jason Reisig; Voiced by: Channing Tatum, James Corden Zendaya, LeBron James, Gina Rodriguez, Danny DeVito. Cert U, 96 mins
“They think we are monsters!” the Yetis in animated feature Smallfoot shriek in exaggerated dismay about the humans. That is only to be expected. The twist here is that these Yetis are every bit as terrified of the humans as the humans are of them. The hairy creatures live in their own community high above the clouds. They’ve heard distant rumours of the existence of small-footed humans but disregard them as wild superstition.
Parts of Smallfoot are likeable, witty and inventive but there is a lot of sludge here too. The musical interludes are the hardest to take – terminally mawkish reworkings of songs like “Under Pressure”. The sanctimonious messages in the final reel about tolerance and mutual understanding between yetis and humans stick in the craw. The main human character, Percy Patterson (voiced by James Corden), is an irritating figure – a smarmy TV naturalist who presents his own (failing) wildlife show. Some abominable snowmen could be just what he needs to boost his flagging ratings.
Thankfully, Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum), the young Yeti who struggles to convince the rest of the village that he has encountered a real-life human, is likeable and intrepid. “How did you know it was a smallfoot?” he is asked after his first encounter with a little man. “Because it had a small foot,” he replies with impeccable logic but the elders suspect it may just have been a red-coated, pygmy, hairless yak.
The filmmakers deal in clever fashion with the communication between the Yetis and the humans. (When Percy screams, Migo thinks he is just trying to say hello.) Some familiar voices can be heard here. Danny DeVito sounds as highly strung as ever as Dorgle, Migo’s long-suffering father whose job is to bang the gong announcing the start of day. Basketball star LeBron James features as Gwangi, a lumbering, good-natured Yeti who is part of the youth movement, Smallfoot Evidentiary Society, set up by Meechee, the chief’s rebellious daughter (voiced in breathless fashion by Zendaya). The script includes some clever gags, many of them to do with human loo roll, which the Yetis see as sacred scrolls. Some of the slapstick is fun too. When Yetis fall into the snow from a very great height, they land with a very satisfying thud and leave huge craters behind them.
Smallfoot may not be on the level of the best Pixar and Dreamworks efforts but it will make passable half term viewing for family audiences.