Scenery in ‘Abominable’ is lush, but the story is barren, lazy

BY NEIL MORRIS, CN+R Film Critic
Posted 9/27/19

Writer-director Jill Culton’s rearing inside the Pixar Animation shop shows in “Abominable,” her second feature film effort and first since joining the DreamWorks studio. Culton and cinematographer Robert Edward Crawford render a visually impressive palette, from the cityscapes of Beijing to the lush China countryside to the white peaks of the Himalayas. Unfortunately, “Abominable” is mostly a lot of pretty pictures hung around a barren fable that’s a far cry from any Pixar storytelling roots.

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Scenery in ‘Abominable’ is lush, but the story is barren, lazy

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Albert Tsai, Tenzing Norgay Trainor and Chloe Bennet star in 'Abominable.'
Albert Tsai, Tenzing Norgay Trainor and Chloe Bennet star in 'Abominable.'
Photo courtesy of DreamWorks Ani
Posted

Writer-director Jill Culton’s rearing inside the Pixar Animation shop shows in “Abominable,” her second feature film effort and first since joining the DreamWorks studio. Culton and cinematographer Robert Edward Crawford render a visually impressive palette, from the cityscapes of Beijing to the lush China countryside to the white peaks of the Himalayas. Unfortunately, “Abominable” is mostly a lot of pretty pictures hung around a barren fable that’s a far cry from any Pixar storytelling roots.

The film opens with a frightened and furious yeti escaping the Chinese research facility where he’s been imprisoned, owned by a British industrialist named Burnish (Eddie Izzard) and run by his assistant, Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson). Back in Shanghai, a Chinese teenage girl named Yi (Chloe Bennett) works an endless series of odd jobs, apparently to satisfy the high expectations of her mother and grandmother, who nevertheless just wish Yi would play the violin like she used to before her dad died.

One night, Yi finds the yeti hunkered down on the rooftop of her apartment building. After helping it evade detection from Burnish’s henchmen, the adventure-seeking Yi divines that the yeti hails from the Himalayas and gives him the on-the-nose nickname “Everest.” With her two cousins (Albert Tsai and Tenzing Norgay Trainor) in tow, Yi leads Everest on a homebound odyssey.

Early on, Yi discovers that Everest also carries mystical powers to control the elements. Whenever Everest intones some melody — eventually including Coldplay ditties, seriously — he can make blueberries spawn to gargantuan size, conjure clouds big enough to carry him and friends through the skies, and germinate a tidal wave of vegetation. It’s never explained why and how Everest possesses these powers or, at some point, able to transmit them to Yi’s violin. When coupled with the revelation that Everest can go undetected once he reaches the wintery snowscape of his home, it begs the question of how Everest was ever captured to begin with.

But at a more fundamental level, “Abominable” just sloppy, even lazy in its world building. The side characters are cardboard cutouts, every attempt at comedic charm falls thuddingly flat, and the story’s stab at some transcendent celebration of the virtues of life and family are pat and served by a slapdash script. “Abominable” doesn’t live down to its title, but it doesn’t scale any summits, either.

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