Review – Small Feet Means A Big Heart (“Smallfoot”)

Yeti’s. Those elusive abominable snow-creatures that supposedly live in the Himalayas, are never seen or heard from, and keep cryptozoologists employed. But what if they were real and thought WE were the strange-looking creatures of legend? That’s the premise for this kids animated version of a reverse-Harry and the Hendersons.

Way, waaaaaaay up in the mountains of the Himalayas lies a village… a village of YETI’S! Yes, these huge monsters with horns, no noses, and sporting various fur colors and sizes, live a Stone Age-like lifestyle, complete with a tribal leader called the Stonekeeper (voiced by Common). This condescending chieftain wears a magnificent robe of small stones–each one bearing a rule, law, or some sort of commandment. This colony lives in isolation and fear, believing in things like ringing the Great Gong to awaken the Light Sky Snail each morning (the sun). That’s the job of excitable Migo (Channing Tatum) and his dad, Dorgle (Danny DeVito).

But one day, Migo accidentally sees a plane crash and a (*GASP*) “Smallfoot” crawls out!! Terrified, he recounts his story to the tribe, but is banished for his ‘lies’. The only ones that believe him are members of the S.E.S. (Smallfoot Evidentiary Society): Meechee (Zendaya), the Stonekeeper’s daughter, Gwangi (LeBron James) a burly Yeti, smart Kolka (Gina Rodriguez), and obnoxious motor-mouth, Flem (Eli Henry). Together, they convince Migo to explore below the hidden cloud cover of their mountain and bring back Smallfoot evidence.

Meanwhile, in a small town below, we meet Percy Patterson (James Corden), a TV wildlife host whose failing ratings are causing him to do desperate things, like forcing his assistant Brenda (Yara Shahidi) to dress up like a Yeti. As fate (or the script) has it, Percy and Migo meet up, but they can’t understand each other. Percy sounds like chipmunk gibberish on helium to Migo, and Migo just has roaring sounds. But, after some wild adventures together, they manage to communicate and visit Migo’s mountain home. Needless to say, the other Yeti’s are shocked, amazed, and begin to question the ‘stones’, much to the distress of the StoneKeeper.

Migo, happy that he’s now a hero for finding a real, live, Smallfoot, now faces another chilling challenge. It seems that the StoneKeeper has been keeping something from his people… er, fellow Yeti’s and reveals this terrible secret to Migo, who now faces a moral dilemma of faith, truth, and integrity. WAG (Warner Animation Studios), who has given us some wickedly funny Lego movies and the outrageously hilarious Storks, renders some dazzling CG animation and beautiful art work. With all this, you want the story and voice-over work to be on par, and brother, you have all that here.

This could almost be called a musical, if for the many catchy songs sung (I especially liked Perfection, which reminded me of Can’t Stop The Feeling from Trolls). The screen-play, by director Karey Kirkpatrick (Over The Hedge) and Clare Sera (Blended) have come up with a unique plot that, although predictable, does have some very nice twists and turns I didn’t expect or see coming. The characters, much like those in Storks or Over the Hedge, are fast-talking, quirky, and directed with such a Warner Bros Looney Tunes rapid-fire pace, that it’s a fun time for both the kiddies as well as the adults. Many scenes reminded me of the old Bugs Bunny/Road Runner cartoons of the 50’s.

Okay, so it does loose a little steam in the third act, and many of the wild coincidences that happen will leave adults shaking their heads in disbelief, but at least this movie doesn’t condescend to the kids with any demeaning fart or butt jokes; the lowest common denominator in any children’s film. There are even some heavy scenes of morality and ethics that seldom creep into comedy films like this. In any case, check this one out, it’s fast, fun, screwball, and has a good old-fashioned message in the end.

Harry and the Hendersons (1987)

Co-written and directed by William Dear, a man not known for his impressionable movies (who remembers his Wild America, If Looks Could Kill, and Timerider movies?), came up with his one and only family blockbuster in 1987 about an 8 ft tall lost Sasquatch and the family he adopts.

Say hello to the Henderson family. There’s George (John Lithgow), his loving wife, Nancy (Melinda Dillon), and their kids Sarah and Ernie (Margaret Langrick & Joshua Rudoy). Just your typical nuclear family living in beautiful Seattle… until one day, while camping in the nearby Cascade mountains, they hit something with the family car. To their astonishment, they discover they’ve hit a Bigfoot! Thinking it’s dead, they decide to take the creature home.

Meanwhile, Jacques LaFluer (David Suchet), an obsessive Bigfoot hunter, has been tracking the creature and discovers the Hendersons’ license plate, which fell off when they hit the creature. Later that night, George discovers the monster isn’t dead, but has escaped into his house and is raiding his refrigerator for food! The family realizes that the creature is friendly and kind and George names the creature, “Harry” (get it?), and decides to take him back to the Cascade mountains, but Harry takes off instead.

George tries to find Harry in order to keep him safe and visits a small Bigfoot museum run by Dr. Wallace Wrightwood (Don Ameche), while LaFleur is getting closer to tracking down his prey. After a Harry sighting, George goes into the city and is able to save Harry from LaFleur.  Safe at home, Harry is treated like a family member, much to the delight of the kids. However, things aren’t going well elsewhere. At work, George’s father (M. Emmet Walsh) asks George to make a poster of a violent Sasquatch in order to drum up gun sales. After a dinner with Dr. Wrightwood, George realizes the danger Harry is in and decides he’s better off in the woods.

Fleeing back to the mountains, George tries to make Harry leave, going so far as to hit Harry. Confused and upset, Harry does not leave. LaFleur catches up to them and Harry attacks LaFleur, but as George intervenes, LaFleur changes his mind and decides that Harry deserves to live peacefully.  As funny and silly as this movie is, the ending is emotionally devastating, like the ending of E.T. You have to give major kudos to both Kevin Peter Hall as Harry and make-up master Rick Baker for pulling off such a believable Bigfoot costume. It’s incredible.

The cast plays it real, starting with the patriarch and rock of the film, John Lithgow, and his exquisite acting range. The man can do goofy comedy and traumatic drama and make it look effortless. The story and dialogue isn’t dumbed-down for the kids, but has a nice authentic feel to it, given the fact it’s about a giant mythical creature that just wants to be your buddy! They just don’t make ’em like this anymore, folks! Rent it and see why!

This movie also spawned a short-lived sitcom series in 1991, where Harry lived with the Hendersons on a day-to-day basis where, every week in true sitcom style, the family struggled to keep his existence a secret from relatives, the press, the government and, of course, those wacky next door neighbors.

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