Cheerful pop music gets a big push in “Smallfoot,” the new animated film about Yetis and the smallfoot human who discovers them. Before the movie even begins a music video by Zendaya declares the film’s main mantra, “Wonderful Life.”
Although “Smallfoot” is not a musical, it follows the format of other animated hits such as “Trolls” and “Moana.” The beginning song-and-dance number led by the main character, Migo (Channing Tatum), sets the scene and tone for the film, wrapping up the back story in an appealing, melodic package.
Subsequent songs serve a similar purpose, advancing the plot by explaining the motivations behind the characters involved: not just Migo who is happy in his village and dreaming only of life as the ringer of the morning gong, but also Meechee (Zendaya), the chief’s daughter, who wants to discover more about the world and shed the willful ignorance of the people around her.and her father, the Stonekeeper (Common), who is tasked with protecting his people.
The funniest song in the film is Percy’s, the smallfoot voiced by James Corden, who takes the stage early in the film to turn Queen’s “Under Pressure” into an anthem to his desperation to achieve TV ratings.
Their stories collide when Migo is accidentally launched outside the village while practicing his gong-ringing. There, he sees a plane crash and briefly meets the plane’s pilot, a smallfoot who is not supposed to exist, according to the Stonekeeper.
Migo’s insistence that the smallfoot was real gets him kicked out of the village and into a small group of Yetis, led by Meechee and including Gwangi (Lebron James), who believe there is much more to the world than the Yeti’s small village.
They send Migo down the mountain to explore, where he quickly runs into Percy, an animal-show host facing dismal ratings and the cancellation of his show. Percy had run into the pilot, who told him of the Yeti, so he devised a plan to fake a Yeti discovery, leading to his impromptu karaoke and a rude awakening outside the bar.
The scene is one of the funniest in the film, with opposing viewpoints (Migo and Percy) showing just how much of a language barrier the two must overcome.
Migo’s triumphant return to the village with Percy introduces the main conflict of the film, with the Stonekeeper’s musical number giving Migo a much more menacing view of his discovery. The truth forces Migo, and the rest of his village, to make a choice: Risk change or stay the same.
The music and easy humor of “Smallfoot” keeps the film entertaining, without getting mired in minor characters or subplots for the sake of a song.
And physical gags, such as Migo’s many falls and his failed Spider-Man grab of a rope between two rock towers, provide LOL moments that had my kids still giggling a day later.
Some of the film’s themes, such as the repeated order that Yetis should deal with questions and doubts by ignoring them, and that the Yetis are better served by ignorance rather than truth, are unsettling.
But the film offers up lessons on change and growth, served with a side of catchy tunes, that make this movie more filling than expected.
“Smallfoot” is rated PG and releases in theaters Sept. 28.