Yi may look like any normal Chinese teen on the streets of Shanghai. But she’s not. You see, Yi’s a teen on a mission. As the other kids while away their summer break looking for fun, goofing off and taking selfies, Yi spends her days working like crazy to earn every yuan she can.
She’s babysitting, walking dogs, dumping trash, taking any odd job possible. Although she’s keeping her earnings secret from her mom and grandmother, Yi hopes to raise enough money to take a trip across China.
Yi’s father often talked about taking her on such a trip. He had even collected little postcards of all the places he wanted them to visit together. It was something wonderful that they both dreamed of doing. But then he died.
And then this man whom Yi cherished most, was suddenly … gone. It felt as if everything of worth in Yi’s life had died, too. But the dream of the trip, well, it would live on. And Yi was determined to make it happen.
Then something remarkably unexpected happens: Yi finds a young Yeti on her apartment building roof. Oh, she doesn’t know what it actually is right away. But she soon figures it out.
I know, crazy, right? I mean, how does some supposedly mythical creature end up on your roof in Shanghai? Turns out it escaped from a nearby lab owned by an eccentric billionaire named Burnish. And that adventurer and entrepreneur wants the big furry beastie back to prove that he did see such a creature years before while climbing Mt. Everest. It’s the only way to clear his name.
So Burnish’s helicopters hover over the city while the billionaire’s minions—especially has right-hand woman Dr. Zara—keep careful watch on seemingly every street corner. And suddenly, Yi realizes that it’s important that she put aside her own dreams to help this defenseless creature: She’ll protect him and help get him back home … to Mt. Everest.
Because even though he’s huge, it’s easy to see that this Yeti is just a kid. He’s alone. He’s lost. He’s separated from his family, the ones he loves most. And as Yi knows so well, that’s a rotten place for any kid to be.
Yi is joined by Jin, a social media-focused friend, and his basketball-loving little cousin, Peng; and the three teens set off to do the right thing by the young Yeti. They name him Everest—after the mountain that they must somehow find a way to—and they do everything they can to help the creature.
Along the way, Yi comes to realize that the path they’re taking across China is almost exactly the path that her dad wanted to travel. And the adventure helps Yi to not only connect with the memory of her father, but also to find a sense of healing through sharing her own pain and loss with her friends. Ultimately, the film subtly highlights the importance of friends and family when it comes to finding a way through deep personal loss and grief.
We see Yi’s mom and grandmother Nai Nai repeatedly reach out to Yi and try and express their love to the wounded and isolated teen. And they both rejoice when Yi returns home with open arms after her adventure.
One particularly selfish character experiences a softening of heart after witnessing beautiful and magical happenings.
[Note: This section includes spoilers.] It turns out that the Yeti, Everest, has magical abilities that are mystically linked to his ties with nature. By humming low bass notes, he’s able to do spectacular acts of what we might call natural magic, such as growing giant blueberries, stirring up great storms and turning a field of flowers into an ocean-like rolling wave.
That magical ability is also given to Yi at one point as well. Early on, the girl lies to her mother, saying she’s sold her father’s violin. We find however that the instrument is actually hidden away, and Yi reserves playing it as an almost spiritual kind of communion between herself and her deceased father. Later, that violin is accidentally broken and mended by Everest with his own magical Yeti hair.
Yi then plays the violin at a giant mountainside Buddha statute that her father always wanted her to see. The beautiful music, and the subsequent magically sprouting flowers, (thanks to strings made of Yeti hair) symbolically express Yi’s loss, grief and, in a sense, spiritual healing. Yi uses the violin a couple more times for its powerful magical abilities in moments of great need and peril.
Jin is obsessed with technology (specifically, his smartphone) and social media, and he initially rejects the idea of any magical or spiritual elements in the world. After he sees many magical, inexplicable things, however, his perspective changes. “My whole life has been a lie,” he mumbles in wonder.
During the film’s credits, we’re shown a snapshot of Yi, her mom and Nai Nai visiting the giant Buddha statue at a later date. (That said, the film never explores any aspects of the Buddhist religion beyond its focus on that statuesque image.)
Peng gazes up at the sky and says that he was told that the stars represent ancestors who’ve died. (Yi later looks up to see a particularly twinkling star, perhaps a reference to her father watching over her from above.) Peng also makes a wish on a dandelion.
It’s obvious that Yi is somewhat attracted to the handsome Jin. Even though she’d never admit it. And the selfie-focused Jin is kind of vainglorious about his own good looks at first, too. Jokes are made (almost all by his young cousin, Peng) about Jin having multiple “girlfriends.” (And, indeed, several young women early on do pay quite a bit of giggling attention to him.)
In their pursuit of Everest, helicopters and armored cars repeatedly swoop in in threatening ways and large guards with tranquilizer guns take aim at the Yeti and his young human friends. And several of the vehicles crash in storms and other magically induced events. We also witness several madcap pursuits, both through the streets of Shanghai as well as in wilder environs.
Burnish can seem a bit menacing as he yells and swings his metal tipped cane around. Another villain ultimately emerges who imprisons Everest and his young friends, purposely causes an avalanche and pushes Yi off the side of an enormous suspension bridge. (The girl survives.) Everest is hit with tranquilizer darts and falls from a great height. We hear verbal threats about killing and cutting up the Yeti. A couple of characters plunge into a misty abyss, apparently to their doom.
When Yi first encounters Everest, it’s apparent that his arm is lightly wounded (we see him zapped by an electrified fence). Yi bandages up the bloodless cut.
A few uses of “oh my gosh!” and “twit.”
Guards shoot a dozen tranquilizer darts at Everest, knocking him out cold. One human is shot by a dart, too, knocking that person out.
Everest and Peng get pretty hyper after drinking multiple cans of a sugary soda.
Yi has isolated and hidden herself from the things that will remind her of her hurt following her dad’s death. She also lies to her mother and grandmother when she deems it necessary to shade the truth.
There are a few light toilet giggles in the mix of things. For instance, when Everest magically causes blueberries to grow huge and burst, Jin complains that he has blueberries “where blueberries should never be.” And when Nai Nai finds out that her homemade pork buns are a big favorite with the kids, she wonders aloud, “Who else like my buns?” Jin drinks out of a stream just as a Yak relieves himself there. Everest belches loudly and essentially throws up flowers he’s consumed. Etc.
In order to get Everest back home, the kids stow away on board a barge. They break into shipping crates, lie to their parents and make other reckless choices as well that this playful animated adventure invites us to overlook in the bigger context of the story of rescuing Everest.
The young popcorn munchers in your family may just see a big furry beastie with a lolling tongue and a silly grin, but there’s more to this delightful Yeti tale than meets the eye.
Yes, as the trailer suggests, Abominable tells the sweet story of a young Chinese girl crossing the wilds of her native land to help a magical creature get home. It’s sometimes goofy and slapstick, sometimes majestically animated, sometimes an outrace-the-bad-guys snow chase. Some mystical magic and mild peril creep into the mix by film’s end, too.
But beneath its standard-issue, kid-flick elements, this pic examines something more serious: the impact of grief on a child. Not the sad side of grief—which is what most flicks geared toward kids will deal with. Instead, Abominable offers an animated exploration of how great loss can tempt a person to bury her feelings.
After the death of her dad, Yi has walled herself off from her loved ones and hidden away the things she cares about most. But in her determination to get her new shaggy pal back to his family, to a place of security and comfort, Yi finds a way back to the important people and things of her life, too.
Abominable totes a subtle message of healing that parents, in particular, will appreciate … while the kids grin throughout all the rest of this gentle-but-rollicking tale.
As we see Yi’s family, we all want to find ways to connect to our children, to be there in the good and the bad times. If you’re looking for some ideas to help you deepen your relationship with your kids, check out these offerings from Focus on the Family:
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.