Directed by Karey Kirkpatrick
Smallfoot isn't great, it isn't going to set the world on fire, it isn't going to upset the culture, or change story-telling forever. Some of it is really, really good. Some of it is kind of pedestrian. And some of it is tooth achingly saccharine.
But, first, what is Smallfoot? It's an animated film where the smallfeet, um, us, are the mythic creatures that haunt the imagination of the Yeti. Some stuff happens and our hero Migo, a gong banger apprentice, witnesses a plane crash and finds the pilot. Nature happens, all of the evidence is gone, and Migo is banished from the Yeti village. Some more stuff happens and he finds himself involved with Percy Patterson, wildlife documentary filmmaker. And more stuff happens and lessons are lessoned and morals are moraled and songs are sung and stuff and things are stuffed and thinged.
Unfortunately, the film begins with a narrated info dump and I really miss the days when kids films began with a montage and a song that outlined the world, but here we are now. Not every kids movie is The Lego Movie no matter how much I wish. So, yeah, the move begins with a narrated info dump that crams in a creation myth and the socio-cultural hierarchy of the Yeti community. But it does introduce one of my favourite jokes, the gong banger who is flung head first into a gong that wakens the village and the light snail, so it's not all bad.
Now, the really, really good. Nearly every aspect of the the Yeti village and the Yetis themselves is very Seussian. Much creative debt goes to Dr. Seuss, from the look of the noseless Yetis, the individual looks of each Yeti, to the village itself with its unnecessarily complicated machinations and such. Want to plant some points firmly in the plus column? Wave your Dr. Seuss flag high and proud. And Smallfoot waves the Seuss flag high and proud indeed.
Also, the film is voiced by a serious team of performers. Channing Tatum as Migo and James Corden as Percy are joined by Zendaya and Common and Gina Rodriguez and Yara Shahidi and Danny DeVito and King James himself. Yes, LeBron James is in this, and he is a damned treasure. The voice work here is top shelf, each actor selling the nuances, the emotional greys, not just going over the top and yelling yelling yelling.
Much of the humour is laugh out loud funny. Some of the slapstick might be a little lazy, but then it is underlined by some truly well written funny moments. The balance between the two might be enough to keep both the kids and whatever parent or guardian has joined them entertained and laughing. And fortunately there aren't that many pop culture references. Tod Browning's 1932 classic Freaks was the only film quote I caught. But then I'm a freak for Freaks and love it with all of my heart and soul and I'm guessing that the majority of the audience didn't catch the moment and that's okay. I mean, it's Freaks. Other than that, and a Candy Crush-type game, that's about it for the pop-culture references in Smallfoot. Well, James Corden does sing new lyrics to Under Pressure but the less said about that, the better.
Actually, let's talk about it. Let's get into the pedestrian and the tooth achingly saccharine. The songs in this movie stop it dead. The absolute worst has to the Under Pressure re-write. The rest of the cast performs their songs, well, fine. Channing Tatum has a surprisingly good singing voice. Of course, that might be the effects of sitting through James Corden sing-talking along to Under Pressure. Other than Common's number, the songs in Smallfoot are just about the worst. Common's tune has some funk and a groove and has some life. But I feel bad for anyone not used to hip hop's cadences when it comes to Common's song. They might lose some important story points trying to keep up.
I think there's a reason Smallfoot isn't being pushed as a musical. With one exception, the songs are bad. They are bad songs and the songwriters should feel bad. And everyone of them feels forced, they just don't feel of a piece with the rest of the movie. Smallfoot has five credited writers so some of it is going to feel as if it was written by committee. The musical numbers, though, really do stand out as out of place.
So, is Smallfoot worth getting dragged to the theatre by a gaggle of children? Other than the songs, the film is pretty good. It looks fine, it has some moments, it made me laugh out loud. It has a wee bit of heart, it isn't going to make anyone feel the feels. It has a great message, don't be afraid to question authority and the status quo. It isn't very subtle with the messaging, not very subtle at all. So, yeah. I guess the takeaway is that Smallfoot is an entertaining family film that'll make you laugh out loud, might make you think, and will make you cringe when the music swells.