The star of the animated feature “Smallfoot” is actually Bigfoot, and the story hinges on a clever reversal of perspective, centering on a tribe of Yetis in the Himalayas who fear the dreaded creature known to them as Smallfoot.
The term refers to people, of course, and the notion of taking a storied monster like Bigfoot and making him the hero with humans as the monsters is the fun of the movie. Based on the book “Yeti Tracks” by Sergio Pablos, the film is co-written and codirected by Karey Kirkpatrick (“Over the Hedge”), while first-timer Jason Reisig codirects.
The story is one we’ve seen before, just with a twist or two. Our hero, Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum), is a happy-go-lucky yeti who loves his small, snowy village so much that he sings a song about the way it works in perfect harmony. As soon as we hear the song, we know where the story is going: The young but brave naïf will, by some turn of events, be thrust outside of his comfort zone, discover something new, go on an adventure and question everything he’s ever known.
Migo has a chance encounter with a smallfoot pilot who crash-lands on the mountain. He tries to tell his village, though he’s rebuffed and outcast by the Stonekeeper (Common), who refuses to believe his assertion. So Migo hooks up with the secret Smallfoot Evidentiary Society, and they go hunting for evidence of smallfoots. In a local village, Migo is joined by Percy (James Corden), an animal/adventure TV host who sees his own opportunity in the encounter.
Although formulaic and predictable, the film is set apart by its willingness to dive into the themes of questioning blind faith within small communities. The Stonekeeper has great reason to keep the village isolated — the status quo keeps them safe and secure. But there’s no growth, no innovation, and Migo’s father, Dorgle (Danny DeVito), keeps smashing his head into a gong every morning because the Stonekeeper told him it makes the sun rise.
The animated designs are simple, but beautiful and effective. Tatum turns in a charming vocal performance as the bright-eyed Migo, who learns what it means to think for himself. And sharp-eared NBA fans will recognize the voice of Gwangi as belonging to LeBron James.
While “Smallfoot” follows a familiar path, it’s what it does on the journey that makes it worth watching.