If you combined an English sheepdog puppy with a bouncing ball and made it into a 3D animation, the creature at the center of “Abominable” is pretty close to what you’d get. Set in China, this movie is about a young girl resolving her grief over her father’s death by helping a magical creature find its way home to its parents and bonding with her friends along the way.
In modern Shanghai, an animal breaks free from a compound and, although wounded, finds refuge in a shelter on top of a city building. The shelter is the refuge for Yi (Chloe Bennet), a young teenage girl whose violin-playing father has died. She goes to her refuge–away from her worried mother (Michelle Wong) and her pleasantly plump and bao-making grandmother (Tsai Chin). There she has a map with postcards showing all the places she and her father had planned to visit and she plays her father’s violin.
During her summer break from school, she has been doing a variety of chores to earn money to take such a trip. The Yeti is soothed by Yi’s violin playing and Yi tends to its wounded paw. Later, Yi also brings a good helping of bao for the hungry creature. Having formed a tentative relationship, Yi figures out that people are after it and the Yeti longs to escape. From the rooftop, a billboard of Everest is visible and it brings comfort to the young Yeti, leaving Yi to understand that is the Yeti’s home.
The journey begins, pitting Yi against a wealthy businessman, Burnish (Eddie Izzard), who has a habit of collecting rare animals and wants to erase a past humiliation by proving the Yeti does exist. Aiding him is the red-haired zoologist, Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson).
Unexpectedly, Yi’s younger friend Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) and his vain and social media popular cousin Peng (Albert Tsai) tag along. Much of this is predictable. Peng will become more practical and all of the kids will pull together to save the creature they name “Everest.”
What’s unpredictable is the kind of magical qualities the animators have decided to imbue Everest with and the story is a delightful surprise, considering that its original writer and director, Jill Culton, left the project in 2016 and was replaced by Tim Johnson and Todd Wilderman. Perhaps someday we’ll learn what Culton wanted this project to look like, but in its current form, “Everest” is family-friendly fun and provides us with a positive entry into a contemporary China.
Seen in 4DX, I had the added sensation of a helicopter, the bouncing gate of Everest, snow and sweet-scented fields. Think of this as a short trip to a high-tech amusement park for the family. For an added memory making opportunity, take time to eat pork bao before or after.
DreamWorks Animation’s “Everest” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on 7 September 2019 and was released on 27 September 2019 in the US.