Ring The Gong: Our Review of ‘Smallfoot’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - September 28, 2018
Ring The Gong: Our Review of ‘Smallfoot’

Migo (Channing Tatum’s voice) tells the audience about the creation story of the Yeti. Every civilization has origin stories like this, including everyone’s, so I’ll try to be as respectful as possible. But his is an origin story that’s adorable yet preposterous. There are even a few Yeti in his Himalayan mountain village already questioning it. Migo isn’t one of those. He’s just a regular Yeti who wants to take over his father Dorgle’s (Danny DeVito) gong ringing job.

Gong ringing, by the way, involves him trying to fly over to that gong to hit it with his head. There are a lot of ways that could go wrong, and it does for Migo. This leading him off course which inadvertently leads him to discover a Smallfoot, which is what the Yeti call humans. He tries to show his fellow Yeti his new discovery, coming in conflict with the belief that Smallfeet don’t exist.

That’s the basic premise of Smallfoot which is surprisingly, a kid’s movie about science and, more surprisingly, colonialism. This would already gain the sympathies of forward thinking audience members. Ones who are thinking of some kid who wants to question his religion. Kids who might face consequences like Migo does. This is great, but there are a few things within the movie’s execution that can make it go sideways. But we’ll talk about those later.

One thing about the animation, and yes, it’s flawed. Why did producers and writers John Requa and Glen Ficarra bother making a Yeti movie? Other animators can do hair much better. It also borrows a lot from what we see in classic Warner animated classics. But it drags those physical gaga for too long.

However, the animation still succinctly expresses the complexity of the village and the villagers’ roles within it. There’s also some capable work on the facial and bodily gestures on the Yeti. That expresses the repression that villagers like Dorgle have to practice. They have to do everything to believe the creation story that the Stonekeeper (Common) propagates on them. But Migo already planted the seeds of anarchy in them.

Again, ‘Smallfeet don’t exist’. And Migo’s insistence on it forces the Stonekeeper to banish him from the village. Doing so actually makes Migo fall under the hands of a group of village skeptics. This group includes the Stonekeeper’s daughter Meechee (Zendaya), showing him more proof of the Smallfeet’s existence. There’s still a hesitancy within Migo to believe any of this despite holding a piece of the puzzle. But he’s starting to believe in Smallfeet.

The group call themselves the SES – Smallfeet Existence Society. This group doesn’t always call each other by their names. Anyway, they convince him to go underneath the clouds to find a Smallfoot. He eventually find one, Percy (James Corden), a Steve Irwin-esque figure who is cynically looking for his viral video moment. A meet cute eventually leads them to go together to the village which finally proves human existence. But it’s not a full victory when the Stonekeeper reveals something to young Migo.

And the film’s first flaw appears when it finally shows Percy’s world. It’s a mix of Nepali bars and mountains of Facebook’s ‘like’ emoji. Migo’s dealing with a Platonic quandary while Percy complains about social media. The shift from one conflict to another feels like a comedown in comparison. And I guess both are kindred spirits, that they’re just introducing their fellow species to a different world. But the connections between the two conflicts and characters are tenuous at best.

There’s also how Stonekeeper tells Migo the truth about humans. The Stonekeeper does this through rap music, which is obviously in Common’s wheelhouse. It also differs from the poppy songs that the other Yeti and Percy have been singing. And movies exposing the harms of colonialism are always great. But introducing that topic this late in the game and in the way they do it? Not a big fan here.

The film has no real villains, or at least it gives its villains a complexity. But it still overwhelms its young audience by heaping these ideas at them, and not all of them work out. Directors Karey Kirpatrick and Jason Reisig could have just picked one and fleshed it out. Another thing about both the yeti and the human world are its gender dynamics. That it’s still about bumbling men and the smarter, suffering women. Audiences always appreciate a message film but its too bad that some tropes drag it down.


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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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