If Yeti were real creatures then should we be more afraid of them or them of us?
Smallfoot posits this question and other meaningful themes, effortlessly balancing substantive content with children’s humor and decent musical numbers.
Smallfoot utilizes an all-star cast of voice actors and a colorful world to tell the story of Migo (Channing Tatum) a yeti who sends his village into a frenzy with the discovery of a human; aka the eponymous “smallfoot.”
The opening musical number aptly illustrates the yeti as a curiosity averse creatures living in blissful ignorance. Led by the wise old Stonekeeper (Common), they are governed only by what is written on these stones. One thing that is written in stone is that smallfoot don’t exist.
Once Migo discovers a smallfoot, and informs his fellow village yeti of this, he is banned by the Stonekeeper until he admits he lied. Determined to stay true, he sets out on a mission to prove himself as such.
Along the way, he enlists the help of the S.E.S (Smallfoot Exists Society). They are a group of conspiracy theorists including Meechee (Zendaya) the brave, intelligent, defiant and independent daughter of the stonekeeper, Gwangi (Lebron James) a HUGE afro’d yeti who everyone considers to be the town nut, Kolka (Gina Rodriguez) a female yeti without any distinguishable characteristics and the awkwardly humorous Fleem (Ely Henry). This band of outcasts helps Migo find a smallfoot named Percy (James Corden), a washed up animal documentarian with a fluid morality and bring him to the village.
To avoid spoilers that’s about as much of the plot that needs to be discussed. What should be discussed though is how the musical numbers seamlessly aid in the telling of the story. I’m usually one to tune out once songs come about. Not this time. As aforementioned the opening number wonderfully serves its purpose, ample character backstory is competently hidden through Percy’s entertaining performance of a sampled Queen classic “Pressure” and Common’s talent is allowed to shine as his character uses a rap to completely shatter Migo’s world. Smallfoot is one of the few children’s musicals with songs that adults can truly enjoy.
Moreover, the adults seemed to be very much in mind when crafting the story. If references to an '80s hit song, "Pac-Man" and father complexes caused by lack of parental affection weren’t enough to make that apparent, the themes and character work should be. The Stonekeeper is an empathetic antagonist, one who is given more depth than typical cartoon villains.
Also, it’s a joy to watch how the decisions that Migo and Percy make beautifully mold their character arc. It must be noted that writer/director Karey Kilpatrick does a great job of evoking emotion throughout, especially during the climax and the resulting falling action.
While keeping children entertained throughout with typical cartoonish humor, Smallfoot excels at engaging an older audience with its substantial meaning. Progress, change, fear, blissful ignorance, challenging authority and staying true are all worthwhile themes that are explored.
Most notable of the film's underlying messages come in the form of an allegory. In a current political climate that is marked by stark division and hyper-partisanship, it seems as if Kilpatrick might be using the misunderstanding that exists between the Yeti and the humans to symbolize the current political divide. As in Smallfoot, with a little effort from each side to communicate with and understand the other, both might find much more in common with the other than they had previously assumed.
Smallfoot expertly juggles lighthearted humor with moments of deep emotion and resonant themes. If only the rest of Hollywood could take notice and follow suit.