Somewhere in the shadows of Smallfoot is a good movie that just needed a little more time to break out and find itself. What made it to the big screen, though, is not that movie. The oddly uninspired, often rambling (and broken up with forgettable musical numbers) film from writer and director Karey Kirkpatrick never gets a rhythm going, and the result may make you ponder, about halfway through, why you paid decent money to sit through it.
Based on the book Yeti Tracks by Sergio Pablos, Smallfoot opens in a remote village in the Himalayas populated by yetis. Their entire civilization is based on a canon of laws carved in stones (Ten Commandments allegory, anyone?) that explain everything from why the sun moves across the sky to why the dirt beneath their feet is there. One day, after being catapulted into the remote, snowy wilderness (long story, and not worth going into), young Migo (Channing Tatum) discovers a human (or smallfoot). Alas, the stones maintain that smallfeet do not exist, so when he returns to the village with the news, he’s banished for spouting sacrilege. A couple of Migo’s friends, including Meechee (Zendaya) and Gwangi (LeBron James), believe him, though, having established an underground smallfoot believer society, and they set out to investigate the truth.
At the bottom of the mountain, Migo trips on nature filmmaker and yeti enthusiast Percy Patterson (James Corden), who is trying to salvage a sputtering career. Migo takes Percy back up to his village, much to the delight of his friends and to the consternation of the Stonekeeper (Common), who is forced to explain to Migo the real reason the stones disavow the humans’ existence; turns out they used to attack the yeti, which forced the monsters to flee to safety.
Eventually, of course, humans and yetis come together in a kum-ba-yah moment, and we’re hit over the head repeatedly with the idea that we should all just get along and be tolerant, loving, and kind. A noble message, certainly, but cloaking it not-so-subtly in an animated film about monsters and men just makes the whole thing seem lazy and uninspired.
The animation, which is most reminiscent of the zany, goofball style of Hotel Transylvania, is fun enough to watch and actually seems more like the old Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner cartoons in parts; at one point Migo is straddled between two glaciers, which then collapse in on him as he tries to scramble up. Your kids, I’m sure, will be laughing their heineys off and pleading with you to take them again and again, but after an hour or so of trying to figure out exactly what you’re watching (and why), you may find yourself slinking out to the lobby to ask about a refund.