The yeti is a mysterious creature, and the only thing more elusive is Zendaya on social media. “Smallfoot,” however, has brought out both beings from their hiding places: the yeti from the Himalayas and Zendaya from her mansion in the Hills — Beverly Hills, that is.
Warner Brothers’s newest animated film follows Migo, voiced by Channing Tatum (“She’s the Man”), as he contends with the consequences of stumbling upon a supposedly non-existent smallfoot. A similar journey is mirrored in Percy Patterson, voiced by James Corden (“Into the Woods”), a washed-up TV personality trying to up his ratings. The movie uses this dual nature to push the important, though a bit cliché, message that differences should bring us together, not tear us apart.
Migo, and many of his fellow yetis, live ignorantly in a seemingly perfect world — a world that the audience is introduced to through song. In a surprising twist, “Smallfoot” has seven songs meant to highlight certain plot points. In short, the movie is a musical, which offers the studio a way to introduce the underlying tensions of the yeti community — governed by hundreds of years of propaganda — in a way that is palatable for their target audience of children, yet overt enough that a parent, or unsuspecting college student, is curious about what’s to come.
Upon introduction to yeti society, the audience learns that it is built on a foundation of laws written in stone or, rather, on stone; the literal message is that none of these rules are false and none can be changed. These laws include things like the yetis fell from the butt of a yak and that the sun is actually a giant, yellow snail that only comes if someone bangs a gong every day. The absurdity of these ideas is enough to make anyone laugh and also sets the stage for questions from any of the characters about their validity, especially if someone were to find physical evidence, like finding a smallfoot, that one of the stones is wrong. They’re guarded by the Stonekeeper, voiced by Common (“Suicide Squad”), the village leader who, like all misguided villains, facilitates the flow of information for the yetis’ protection.
Migo’s sudden discovery of a smallfoot sends the community reeling and results in his banishment from the village. Determined to return to his normal life, Migo searches for proof of a smallfoot and encounters the SES, or Smallfoot Exists Society. Meechee, the Stonekeeper’s daughter, leads the secret group and is determined to prove that not only is the “law” about smallfoots wrong, but so are the others. Voiced by Zendaya, (“The Greatest Showman”), Meechee is a strong female character bent on finding answers; she has theories about an invisible force holding everyone down, otherwise known as gravity, and is convinced that there is more than meets the eye about smallfoots and their world in general. Migo is also in love with her and, consequently, agrees to go below the cloud line to search for an actual smallfoot to substantiate his claims.
Below the clouds, we meet Percy Patterson. A famous adventurer who lost his innocent wonder about animals as he went broke, Percy is desperate to get his big break, even if it means lying about seeing a yeti. Shockingly, however, Percy meets Migo, a real, live yeti, and he lives to not only tell the tale but also learn of the complex yeti society when Migo brings him back to the village. The relationship that develops between Percy, Migo and the rest of the yetis highlights the nuances of why accepting new, strange-looking creatures is so difficult for anyone, especially if there are already prejudices in place. Migo and Percy get off on the wrong foot because Percy is convinced that yetis are supposed to be monsters. Yet, with an open mind, the opposite is slowly revealed and soon an adorable friendship is born.
“Smallfoot” is able to explore its overarching theme of acceptance using a charming, British man and his counterpart in a large, over-enthusiastic yeti. While the physical comedy is enough to keep any kid interested, Warner Brothers does a fantastic job of throwing in some political criticism about a society in which the leaders lie to protect the public. “Smallfoot” compares two sides of the phrase “knowledge is power” when it shows how the Stonekeeper uses the story behind the stones to control the yetis, while Percy uses his knowledge to protect them rather than further his own career.
In the last couple years, it seems like movies meant for kids have also become more critical of our society. “Smallfoot” producers are using their unique position to not only teach kids important lessons about the world, but also force older viewers to reflect on the way they view the world and live their lives. Though the message in “Smallfoot” is a little tired, the characters are drawn well, the jokes are timely and Zendaya is Meechee.