The sound of shared laughter is one of the most magical things in cinema; there was plenty of it at the public screening of Dreamworks’s Abominable that I attended at the weekend. The packed house was, presumably, not drawn by political controversy over a map which appears in the film, but due to the How To Train Your Dragon connection via the film’s makers; Everest the Yeti might not be quite as complex a character as Toothless the Dragon, but he’ll do for now.
Everest is introduced in a fast-out-of-the-traps opening that sees him escaping from a holding pen in a laboratory, and swiftly making friends with Yi (Chloe Bennett). She has a yearning to escape from her family in Shanghai, and mourns her father by playing her violin to the city skyline at night. Yi and Everest begins a repatriation mission to get Everest back to his Himalayan family, very much in the style of Missing Link, with Eddie Izzard and Sarah Paulson in pursuit.
Abominable rises above many of the familiar tropes of animation; it’s slower than might be expected, and it takes a long time for the pursuers to catch up with the pursued for a vertiginous rope-bridge climax. Along the way, there are some touches to savour, notably the comical whooping snakes that steal scene after scene with their comic timing. But almost as sweet as the children’s laughter at their antics are the gasps of disbelief when it look like poor Everest is done for. His recovery, with a little help from Yi and her violin, makes for a rousing finale and hits just the right spot with a positive message that doesn’t feel contrived.
Animated films are ten a penny, and there’s always plenty of cheap imitations. The animation standard is high here, but what sets Abominable on the way to financial good heath and worldwide popularity is the standard of the film’s conception; Everest isn’t immediately lovable, and earns our affections through an engaging and imaginative story; this is no Mac and Me rip-off, but a sweet story of friendship between human and monster, and one that deserves its growing reputation and success. For Pixar graduate Jill Culton, who wrote and directed here, it’s a real triumph.