The Movie Guru: Channing Tatum, James Corden cute in surprisingly insightful ‘Smallfoot’
September 28, 2018
On the surface, "Smallfoot" seems like every other cute-but-not-spectacular kids movie that's come out in the last 20 years. While it is that, to a certain extent, it's also a surprisingly nuanced metaphor about misinformation, divisiveness and the dangers of ignorance. While singing yetis distract the audience, this average little movie does the incredibly important job of teaching both kids and adults how to make it in today's increasingly stressful world.
The movie opens up on a small village of yetis, located high in the mountains past an impenetrable wall of clouds. All of the yetis are taught not question anything, especially the rules that have been carved on stones worn by the leader. When one young yeti accidentally catches sight of a human, however, it leads to him crossing the path of an animal-show host desperate to reclaim his lost success. Together, they start a chain of events that may end up changing both worlds forever.
Humans are the myth
The idea that humans are as much of a myth to yetis as yetis are to us is clever, and "Smallfoot" offers a surprising amount of world-building to back it up. It's a musical, so everything is moved along by fun, catchy songs, and Channing Tatum and James Corden do charming work voicing the two leads. If that was all the movie was, it would be a perfectly nice bit of harmless entertainment
All of that, however, is really just the surface cover for the complex life lessons "Smallfoot" is trying to share. The movie tackles huge issues such as enforced ignorance, doing the wrong things for the right reasons and how fear can push us into making terrible decisions. It doesn't demonize any of the characters, offering reasons for what they do and showing the chain of events that lead them to that place, and even talks about how much easier it is to just not know things. No matter what you believe, don't be surprised if you hear one of the characters say something you've been thinking.
More importantly, the characters also all learn and grow. The only real enemies in the movie are ignorance, hatred and fear, and the characters have to work hard to find a way to overcome those. It's difficult at times, but it's all the more moving when they succeed.
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The metaphor is clear enough anyone can get it, but it doesn't stop the movie from being fun to watch. It's surprisingly funny, with plenty of physical humor for the kids and some sneaky jokes for the adults.
Is it as good as most Pixar movies? Of course not. But it's cute, and its message is important enough that everyone should watch it. These are the kind of lessons that both kids and adults need to learn these days, even if it's an animated yeti doing the teaching.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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