Here’s a defanged, declawed yeti in an animation whose every beat, character and narrative component feels as if it has been algorithmically tested for commercial safety by a computer programme. That even somehow includes the rare moments of unexpected wit assigned to its Gru-ish villain, voiced by Eddie Izzard. The film –and its mythic hero – is a sweet, harmless, giant-kitten ball of white fluff.
The movie is by writer-director DreamWorks veteran Jill Culton, who also directed Open Season and has done animation and story work on Toy Story and Monsters Inc. The setting is a Chinese city, where Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennet) is living with her mother (Michelle Wong) and feisty grandma Nai Nai (Tsai Chin) – and still not over the death of her violinist dad, who had inspired Yi to play the violin. Now she is working many jobs to pay for some much yearned for travel. Then an adorable baby yeti escapes from the research lab owned by the alpinist-turned-corporate-plutocrat Mr Burnish – does that name signal an approximation of The Simpsons’ Mr Burns? – voiced by Izzard. Yi discovers the poor lonely fugitive and conceives a rescue plan to bring this cute yeti home to Mount Everest, with the help of her nerdy cousin Peng (Albert Tsai) and smug yuppie classmate Jin (voiced by Tenzing Norgay Trainor, whose grandfather was Tenzing Norgay, the sherpa who accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary to the summit of Everest in 1953).
There are some borrowings from How to Train Your Dragon and ET, and the yeti has the supernatural power to control the elements, which means that a lot of the ordinary narrative jeopardy is conveniently abolished. The whole idea of the yeti being a mysterious, possibly scary creature semi-visible in the snowy wastes is cancelled by this narrative approach. It’s like finding Nessie hiding in a Scottish pub, a cute little water-creature needing to be brought back to the loch. Did the yeti have to be so bland?