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'Smallfoot' review: Animated adventure with a message of tolerance and understanding

Migo, left, voiced by Channing Tatum, and Percy

Migo, left, voiced by Channing Tatum, and Percy voiced by James Corden in the new animated adventure "Smallfoot."   Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

PLOT A young yeti discovers that humans actually exist.

CAST Channing Tatum, Zendaya, Common

RATED PG (some rude humor)


BOTTOM LINE A think-for-yourself message makes this somewhat contrived kids’ movie worth watching.

For an animated children's movie, “Smallfoot” gets into some fairly deep-reaching material. The story of a young yeti named Migo (the voice of Channing Tatum), who one day leaves his Himalayan village and encounters a — gasp! — human, “Smallfoot” would seem to be just another topsy-turvy, table-turning adventure. It is that, but as Migo’s discovery turns him first into a celebrity, then a subversive and eventually into yeti non grata, “Smallfoot” draws clear parallels to religious dogma, government oppression, social control and the value of evidentiary-based science.

I’m half-kidding, but only half. Take, for instance, Migo’s lumpen dad, Dorgle (an unmistakable Danny DeVito), whose job each morning is to wake the big, glowing snail in the sky by banging a massive gong with his head. In its mockery of superstition and tradition,  the whole routine is positively Pythonesque. The gong ritual is just one of many yeti commandments chiseled upon small stones and fashioned into a robe by the Stonekeeper (Common). 

When Migo spots his first human -- a notion that contravenes the stones -- he is exiled for refusing to renounce his story. He also, however, discovers a secret club of fellow believers. This is occasion for one of the movie’s fitfully occurring but nicely written musical numbers, “Wonderful Life,” sung by the club’s leader, Meechee (Zendaya). She’s a budding Galileo who risks everything (her dad is the Stonekeeper) to follow scientific truth.

Directed and co-written by Karey Kirkpatrick (he co-wrote the songs, too), “Smallfoot” can be a mixed bag. The animation is standard Sony Pictures stuff: The humans have over-long legs and oddly detailed hair, while the noseless yetis aren’t as endearing as they could be. The narrative structure is awkward, with too much stage-setting; the late-starting action begins when Migo stumbles upon Percy (James Corden), the host of a low-rated wildlife show. Each will learn that the other’s world can be a hostile place.

From there, “Smallfoot” falls back on familiar themes of tolerance, understanding and overcoming our fears of the other. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and the more of it the better these days. Still, the movie's extended social-political allegory -- almost like a yeti "Animal Farm" -- was more interesting.

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