If you know me in person, or have followed my exploits on the internet, you know I have a very deep and personal love for my favorite musical of all time, Something Rotten!, and all the members of its cast and creative team. Well, if you loved Something Rotten! as much as I did, you are in luck! The Kirkpatrick brothers, who co-wrote and composed, are at it again with a blockbuster animated movie that just came out in theaters a week ago. Smallfoot (co-written and directed by Karey Kirkpatrick, with songs by Karen and Wayne Kirkpatrick) fills the void in my heart left by Rotten!’s closing with a colorful, funny, and surprisingly deep family film – with musical numbers! – that exceeded my expectations and is absolutely worth a trip to the cinema. Yeti or not, here comes my thoughts on the movie!
Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum) is a young, curious yeti who lives high above the clouds in the Himalayas with his father, Dorgle (voiced by Danny DeVito.) The yeti society is run like clockwork and is very steeped in traditions and rules, enforced by the Stonekeeper (voiced by Common.) Every day, Migo and Dorgle have to ring the gong via catapult and wake the “sky snail” to move across the sky, and they just accept that as how the world works. The whole yeti society believes that there is nothing underneath the clouds but mammoths holding their world up – and under the mammoths, a great vast nothingness. But one day, Migo overshoots the gong and lands outside the yeti village, where he encounters a Smallfoot (a human) who is lost in the mountains after their plane lands on the side of the mountain. Migo returns to the yeti village to tell them all about the Smallfoot he saw, but Stonekeeper banishes him from the village because spreading lies is against the rules on the stones. After some encouragement from a band of yetis who do believe in Smallfoot – including Stonekeeper’s clever, rebellious daughter Meechee (voiced by Zendaya) – Migo ventures under the clouds to the unknown world below. The ensuing adventure Migo has when he crosses paths with a wildlife documentarian desperate to make money (voiced by James Corden) has lots of twists, turns, slapstick and surprises.
The story of Smallfoot is one with lots of excellent, timely messages for little ones and their guardians – the importance of a healthy curiosity, living your truth amidst everyone believing lies, and finding common ground and building bridges to understand social and cultural differences. It’s a beautiful film, gorgeously animated with striking use of sunlight reflecting off of ice and snow and stone, and soft fur you want to reach out and stroke. The characters are a lot of fun and the dialogue is snappy and hilarious. Of course it is, one of the screenwriters is a Tony nominee! (There’s one kind of annoying character, the chatty Yeti Fleem, but even the other characters find him obnoxious, which I found hilarious!)
But it’s the use of musical numbers that sets Smallfoot apart from all the other major animated films this year for me. Wayne and Karey have written a handful of delightful tunes that are fun to listen to and further the storytelling. In the opening number, the hummable, whistle-y “Perfection,” Channing Tatum’s Migo sings about his contentment with the day-to-day tasks being a yeti entails, and the whole yeti village joins in. It’s a cute, peppy opening number that sets up a playful tone for the film. When Migo meets the Smallfoot Existence Society and gets the emotional push he needs to go explore beneath the mountain and fulfill his curiosity, Zendaya’s Meechee sings her big anthem, “Wonderful Life.” It’s a striking and beautifully animated sequence where Meechee takes Migo into a cavern full of butterflies, across a snowy river, and even into space as she belts about the joy of exploring the world around you and having a sense of wonder (which most of the yetis lack.) It’s a great song in the modern Disney Princess anthem vein and one I could see having Best Original Song Oscar chances. The one big comedy song in Smallfoot comes from James Corden’s distressed Percy, who sings a parody of Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” in a karaoke bar to his long-suffering filming partner Brenda. It’s harmless and silly, a solid comic relief number before Migo discovers Percy and the plot really kicks in. Later on in the film, Common’s Stonekeeper gets an amazing rap number called “Let It Lie” where he tells Migo the truth about Smallfoots and Yeti society. It’s a dark and intense song with some really deep and thoughtful lyrics about telling the truth that put the final act of the film into motion. I never expected the Kirkpatricks to write a rap song for any of their musical endeavors, but they absolutely nailed this one. That isn’t all the songs in the film, but those are the real highlights of the soundtrack for me.
I had been looking forward to Smallfoot for months, ever since word got out that my favorite musical-writing brothers were teaming up again. It absolutely exceeded my expectations. I loved every second of this delightful animated adventure and I hope I can see it again soon. I see anything the Kirkpatricks do multiple times! Heck, if the Kirkpatricks and Warner Bros. ever decided to turn Smallfoot into a full stage musical, I’d be thrilled to see what they could do with new songs and adapting the vast mountainous world of the film to a stage setting.
(Photo by Warner Bros Pictures)