★★★★★ - SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- This animated feature from DreamWorks is one of the more engaging products of Hollywood’s romance with the Chinese box office. It’s another Yeti story – the third in the past 12 months – but it takes a uniquely Chinese approach. It opens in Shanghai and climaxes in the Himalayas. More important, the only Caucasian characters are the villains.
The animation style and sensibility, however, are pure Hollywood. Jill Culton, who conceived the story and co-directed the film, was trained at Pixar and her work displays the Pixar trademark, a seamless blending of farce, wit, melancholy and the kind of reflectiveness that traverses the generational divide.
Another plus is the fact the Yeti doesn't speak. It makes animal sounds and its demeanour, says Culton, is based on her own dogs – a pair of oversize bloodhounds. Imagine something furry, floppy and very needy with a highly developed homing instinct and little idea of its own propensity for occupying all the available space.
In the opening scenes, it’s heading for the exit of a laboratory where it’s been held for experimentation by Dr Zara, a steely professor voiced by Sarah Paulson, and her boss, Burnish, an old billionaire whose looks suggest that he’s being voiced by John Lithgow. It’s actually Eddie Izzard, playing straight, and he wants to ship the Yeti back home to prove its existence and confound the naysayers who have been lampooning his theories for decades.
But the Yeti muscles his way to freedom and takes refuge on a Shanghai rooftop, where he’s discovered by Yi (Chloe Bennet), an adventurous 16-year-old who decides she’s going to escort Everest, as she calls him, back to his home in the Himalayas.
DreamWorks’ courtship of the Chinese market began in 2013 with the production of the second Kung Fu Panda sequel. The studio set up a base in Shanghai as a joint venture with a Chinese investment company, but the deal did not work out and its Chinese partners eventually bought the studio outright while carrying on their artistic collaboration with DreamWorks. This is the first film they have made together since 2013.
It certainly makes the country look good. Yi and her friends – nine-year old Peng (Albert Tsai) and Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor), a narcissistic 18-year-old with a phone fetish – take off with Everest, pursued by Burnish and Dr Zara. And we follow, moving through a series of glorious landscapes animated with a painterly eye. Everest turns out to be a magician, which gives Culton and her team licence to embellish and invent, which they do with wit and flair.
- SYDNEY MORNING HERALD