For Chinese teenager Yi, city life in one of the world’s most populous countries is hardly ideal. She and her late father had long dreamed of taking a trip to some of China’s most beautiful natural landmarks, and Yi is determined not to let her dad’s untimely demise get in the way of their plans.
She works countless jobs during her summer vacation — babysitting, dog-walking, trash-dumping — to fund her voyage, all while shirking quality time with her mother, grandmother and friends. At the end of every day, she retreats to the roof of her apartment building and plays her father’s treasured violin, one of the last remaining bits of his memory.
One night, she discovers that someone else — something else — has set up shop up there.
A real-life yeti, freshly escaped from a nearby research lab, cowers in the corner, its arm badly cut. Instead of seeing a fearsome monster, Yi sees a soul that is just as lonely and fearful as she is. They forge a bond through their shared penchant for music, and Yi learns that her new friend — Everest, as she comes to call him — wants nothing more than to return to his family in the Himalayas, and she resolves to help him do just that.
But Everest’s former captors follow close behind, obsessed with reclaiming what was once theirs. Throw in the tag-along antics of Yi’s downstairs neighbors, Jin and Peng, and you’ve got an adorable, goofy, impressively animated adventure that celebrates the uniting power of music and nature.
First, let’s address the yeti in the room. Upon viewing “Abominable,” one might think it’s not anything new, and one would be correct. The fish-out-of-water trope is one that popular films, especially animated ones, have retread time and again for decades, from “E.T.” to “How to Train Your Dragon.” (The latter, also produced by DreamWorks Animation, is heavily referenced and — perhaps unintentionally — mirrored in this movie’s branding.) As a result, this film hardly takes an unpredictable step, and it might be difficult to watch without thinking of a dozen other films that tell the same story more memorably.
Still, there’s plenty of delightfulness to compensate. Everest’s wide-eyed, innocent charm and Yi’s gung-ho determination pair seamlessly, the fruits of their friendship worthy of chuckles and sniffles alike. The animators at DreamWorks assemble a visual style that, while deceptively simplistic when compared to the likes of, say, Pixar, is subtly dynamic, particularly in its use of color to convey the deeply felt emotions of the protagonists.
Though it’s much more fitting for your youngster than it is for date night, “Abominable” will, at a minimum, fill 97 minutes of your life with a passably pleasant feast for your eyes and some good laughs — as well as a couple of regrettably flat attempts to get another out of you.
Still, if you’re willing to look past its unignorable lack of originality, you will likely find this film to be a sweetly moving tale that — when the little one inevitably asks to watch it again and again on your next road trip — you won’t at all mind revisiting.
John Battiston is a Times-Mirror reporter and a founder of the Reel Underdogs podcast. Contact him at email@example.com. Reel Underdogs is not affiliated with the Times-Mirror.