Review: Big themes at play in wise 'Smallfoot'

Cute kids tale, featuring the voices of Channing Tatum, Common and more, works on several levels

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Channing Tatum voices Migo in "Smallfoot."

There's something big afoot in "Smallfoot." 

This delightful, smart, colorful animated tale contains a surprisingly woke message about tolerance, acceptance, the indoctrination of society and the lies our leaders sell us in order to keep the wheels spinning.

It also totally works as a story about big furry snow creatures who live in the mountains, who are just as scared of humans as humans are of them. Toss in a few earworm-y pop songs that will lodge themselves inside your brain for days, and you've got yourself one of the year's best animated films. 

Channing Tatum lends his voice as Migo, a yeti living high above the clouds in a village in the Himalayas. Migo happily performs his daily tasks, a proud cog in the machine, singing an "Everything is Awesome"-type opening number that lays out the duties of everyone around him.

Among his fellow yeti is his father, Dorgle (voice of Danny DeVito), who straps on a helmet every morning and catapults himself toward a gong so he, and he alone, can ensure the sun will rise. 

The yeti belief system and way of life is spelled out in a series of stones, passed down through generations and kept by Stonekeeper (Common), who wears them on his person like a robe. The stones, which dare not be questioned, explicitly state there are no such things as Smallfoot, which is what the yetis call humans. 

But one day Migo encounters a human, a down-on-his-luck nature show host named Percy (James Corden), and when Migo reports his findings to Stonekeeper, he's told what he saw was not real — enter fake news — and is banished to the nothingness beyond the village. 

Migo joins with a group of truthers, including Stonekeeper's daughter, Meechee (Zendaya) and the massive Gwangi (LeBron James) and he learns that outside the village there's a whole world to be discovered. "This is so not nothingness," he says. "This is definitely somethingness." 

In his travels, Migo sees that not only are humans real, but most of the operating principals their yeti society is built on are lies.

The reason for those lies is explained in a rather heady rap that adds another layer of context to the film, and makes what could have been a throwaway tale about a Bigfoot searching for humans a resonant, relevant story with an abundance of teachable lessons.

Among them is the importance of getting along and rising above fears of those that are different. It also discusses the role of fear in keeping society controlled, and the value of knowing the truth, despite the harm it may cause. 

Co-directors Karey Kirkpatrick and Jason Reisig, working from a script based on "Despicable Me" creator Sergio Pablos' "Yeti Tracks," do a commendable job of keeping the tone light in what could easily become a heavy, overbearing exercise, given the themes they're juggling. They make sure "Smallfoot" never gets away from them and works as a children's film first and foremost. 

But "Smallfoot" satisfyingly operates on multiple levels and is much deeper than it appears to be. Like Migo says, this is so not nothingness, this is definitely somethingness.




Rated PG for some action, rude humor, and thematic elements

Running time: 109 minutes