By: Dakota Gordon
Reviewing an animated kids’ film as an adult is a somewhat tricky venture. One would predict some loosening of expectations due to the more simplistic nature of presentation dedicated to keeping children entertained—a truly monumental task. I, however, don’t tend to abide by this scenario, believing that the best kids’ films (animated or not) are the ones that can both entertain children and be tolerable enough to pay attention to as adults. Seeing trailers for the new film Smallfoot beforehand, I believed it would be on the lower end of the spectrum, appealing to the wildest of kids with gratuitous slapstick comedy and nonstop forced humor. To my surprise, it ended up being a relatively enjoyable viewing.
There is a practical part of Hollywood that knows how to appeal to the masses: stick to what works. Many times, animated films with a family-oriented premise will try to include the workings of past titles to act as a crutch to hold their story up. With this in mind, the overly-formulaic structure of Smallfoot came as little surprise to me, but it remained disappointing. While Pixar was once a trend-setter for animated films, they, too, have fallen victim to re-using their own ideas—only those ideas continue to work and bring them profit. Other studios, such as Warner Animation Group, have taken part in using the retread as a means of sculpting their message, rather than building things up without an instruction booklet. As an adult, this becomes boring over time because it makes the plot predictable, expected, and less impactful with more films of this nature. Smallfoot would serve as a nice introductory course into the typical structure of animated films.
What kids’ animated films don’t always incorporate are underlying political themes representative of society’s current state. Smallfoot is a very progressive film through its core message of opening the doors to a civilization unknown to the masses. I say this with little exaggeration, but this film reminded me a lot of Black Panther in the way it handled its core political themes. Where Black Panther was obtrusively blunt, Smallfoot hides behind the irony of having yetis, whose appearance are monstrous compared to humans, as the focus civilization. To some extent, I find this an appropriate way to introduce kids to the general moral values of being accepting of all people, no matter their looks, while also giving a nod to the adult audience members who are aware of the significance of these themes in present times.
How many songs are necessary to label a movie as a musical? There were four songs that I can recall from the film, and that was four more than I expected to hear out of it. Generally, the songs were comfortably catchy, but nothing so memorable that it reaches Frozen or Moana levels of Youtube repeat marathons. A couple songs, however, were incredibly out of nowhere and didn’t flow naturally within the course of the film’s plot, which made me wish it wasn’t a musical (Is it?).
What did flow wonderfully, however, was the quality of animation. Exuberant, clever at times, and wonderfully icy. Smallfoot has the animated quality reminiscent of Disney’s finest, which I find no exaggeration. While the aesthetic isn’t entirely to my taste, the visual humor certainly made a few kids in my theaters laugh on numerous occasions.
As far as acting goes, it ranged between fine and incredibly lacking. I don’t care how popular Lebron James and James Corden are, they should stop being in movies based on their status as stars. Though the worst of the bunch was “Common” as the “Stone-Keeper” character. I don’t know who “Common” is or whether they’re actually a popular figure in Hollywood, but they can’t really act on a vocal level, and I hope I never hear them again. Channing Tatum as the main protagonist is fine, Zendaya as the female lead is fine, Danny DeVito is fine. Lots of fine performances.
In the end, it’s a film that I underestimated by its trailers alone. I figured it would be a mindless, soulless product of Hollywood designed to suck up money from the wallets of adults wanting to take their kids to a dumb movie. What I got was a decent experience that tried nothing new but was spirited enough with its animation and moral messages to serve as substantive content. It should work on diversifying its plot structure a little, though. For future reference.
Final Score: 6/10