Review: “Smallfoot” is Woke – and it Really Wants You to Know

Erin Graham ‘19 / Emertainment Monthly TV Editor
For a children’s movie, Smallfoot takes on big themes in an unexpected way: in the first five minutes, the narrative leans on a cliched opening number–uncannily similar to “Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie–in order to establish the fabulous predictability of the Yeti villagers’ lives. Everything is just so, and everyone has a job meant just for them. The king of the Yetis, the Stonekeeper (Common), wears a robe made of stones carved with rules for their microcosmic utopia, namely: don’t go beneath the clouds, and there is no such thing as a Smallfoot.
It’s immediately evident that the movie involves a protagonist, Migo (Channing Tatum), meeting the Smallfoot (James Corden), a human, the “Other,” in order to face his own individuality and realize life is about being yourself, not some mindless grunt doing their tedious job for eternity. Surely this age-old plot is also topped with a dash of a heavy-handed–yet necessary– xenophobia-is-bad metaphor, sprinkled with something about two generations clashing but finally seeing eye-to-eye on the coexistence of tradition and progress.

Smallfoot. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
Except, it isn’t. Early on, Migo spots a Smallfoot, which is impossible: the omniscient stones say there’s no Smallfoots. Migo must choose: are the stones–the town’s sense of order, purpose, and tradition–inaccurate, or is he making stuff up? Immediately, the movie becomes far more cerebral than expected, introducing themes of doubting one’s perceptions, speaking truth to power, and sacrificing one’s place in society to debunk nonsense tradition.
The movie weaves these interesting themes throughout the rest of the narrative, peppered with the usual slapstick comedy. However, with animation so detailed that each strand of fur on the Yetis seems tangible, even the dumbest anvil-to-the-head gag becomes interesting. The duality of the movie drives it; there is something for children and adults alike. A setting that should have been monochromatic–white-furred Yetis on a snowy background–was colored in with beautiful sunsets and cheery contraptions form the Yeti village.
Smallfoot. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
Smallfoot’s music is engaging in both lyricism and melody. There’s a classic James Corden-style parody of “Under Pressure” that’s clever enough to carry a longer scene. The scene introduces another theme: the Smallfoot is, in our world, an animal documentarian with a failing show desperate for more views on his show; he struggles between documenting everything and preserving the privacy of the Yetis throughout the movie. Is life about views, or about experiences? The other notable musical scene is a Hamilton-esque villainous drawl melody from Common, who raps about the necessity of power and order among the Yetis. Between the songs, the score carries audiences through a well-animated winter wonderland.
The themes are nuanced, but the movie is a little too proud of itself. It’s impressive that one of the characters discusses the oppression of the people through the stones, actually using the word oppression; but when Migo’s father tells him that the village is woke, it’s a bit much. But this critique is easily overlooked with the admirable focus on themes that don’t often manifest in children’s narratives.
Smallfoot. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
Whether you read the movie as a nuanced look at oppressive, deceitful regimes spreading fake news, or the cliched but still powerful “break the mold” morale, it’s important to note that the movie validates both, and is still just a sweet and fun ride.
In one scene, Migo’s father realizes he can no longer continue doing the same job assigned to him, and he asks what he should do. It would have been easy to say, “Speak truth to power,” but a little girl shouted, “Be yourself!”
I think we both got it.
Overall Grade: B+
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