The fact that’s there’s a Tod Browning’s Freaks reference in Smallfoot doesn’t really say all that much about the movie. It’s not actually crammed full of clever comedy for adults, or secretly hiding darker themes than what appears. I do like the idea that a writer for the film was so bored with what he was putting together that he crammed a reference-turned-meme from one of the more disturbing films ever made into a children’s movie. Probably knowing full well that the majority of people have no idea where it’s from, and the studio heads would let it through because of sheer ignorance.
Then again, maybe it does say something about Smallfoot that I used my subheader and opening paragraph to discuss a single line from the film that has no effect on the rest of the movie whatsoever. That’s just how middling Smallfoot is. The rest of the movie is no more memorable or forgettable than most children’s films. Lackadaisically filled with needless songs and friendly reminders to not fear the unknown, the movie simply “is what it is”. I suppose that’s why the one aspect that wasn’t in line with expectations was the only thing I could truly remember.
Directors: Karey Kirkpatrick, Jason Reisig
Release Date: September 28, 2018
Smallfoot takes the premise of Bigfoot and the abominable snowman and flips it around. A group of yetis live in a mountain village where they follow the rules of many stones that their leader keeps. Humans, known to them as “smallfoots,” are a mythical creature that one stone says doesn’t exist. However, after a chance encounter with a plane crash, Migo (Channing Tatum) finds a smallfoot, and is subsequently kicked out of the village for claiming the opposite and going against the stones. This kicks off a quest in which he and a ragtag group of yetis, who also believe in the smallfoot’s existence, attempt to find proof, eventually bringing back Percy (James Corden) to the village and shaking yeti society to its very core.
You can see many of the standard (and admittedly worthwhile) themes of children’s movie writ large in this plot. Acceptance, family, and fear of “the other” are common grounds for kid’s films looking to teach life lessons while they entertain. Smallfoot just never does anything special with these lessons or story. It’s not like it does anything bad with them either, but in the end, the emotional punch that’s needed to make a story good is lacking. What you’re left with is platitudes stuck together as life lessons. Of course, it’s great for children to see stories like this, but when they’re this bland, I’m not sure the real point.
While the plot and themes may skid by as acceptable, the music is another story. Smallfoot is one of those films where it seems like it was made a musical so they could sell the songs, not because it should be. You walk out of a Disney animated musical with at least two songs annoyingly competing to be the song that will be stuck in your head all week; you walk out of Smallfoot and forget there was any music in it at all. The songs are written like pop music radio hits, not as cohesive musical wholes, and it feels out of place every time the yetis start singing, or when Corden busts out into a weird song set to Queen’s Under Pressure. However, the most out-of-place moment has to come when Common, playing the yeti leader, busts into a quasi-social commentary rap of prolifically bad proportions. None of the music works.
Also, the yeti’s don’t have noses. That may sound like I’m picking at nits, but it really is super-weird. I’m not sure whose design decision that was, but it took me a solid third of the film to stop being weirded out. My adult mind started racing with world-building questions about how they smell and breathe and what a society built around lack of noses would be like.
I am, though, an adult. Kids do not care about lack of noses, and I will readily admit that Smallfoot seemed to keep the kids in the audience happy. While it’s never anything more than you expect, it is what you expect. I’ve been in theaters where kids lose interest five minutes in and Smallfoot seemed to keep them entertained throughout. It’s often hard to review a movie made for children, but at the most basic level of whether or not it is entertaining to a young one, the answer is yes, and in that case the lack of good songs, thematic execution, and noses doesn’t really matter all that much.
Smallfoot is a children’s movie, and in that capacity I can’t say it doesn’t work. It lays out its story, delivers some jokes, has some songs, and then ends happily. There’s nothing wrong with that, and if you need something to do with the kids, you won’t be upset by it. There’s just not much more there, which ultimately makes for a film that’s most exciting aspect is a meme from a 1932 movie.