Review by Daniel Blackaby January 3, 2019
Smallfoot (Movie Review)
SMALLFOOT: A average animated film with a surprisingly aggressive atheistic bite.
The days the highest aspiration of an animated film was to distract kids with a chaotic bombardment of cartoonish violence and shenanigans are—for better or worse—long gone. Championed by the imaginative genius of Disney’s Pixar Studios, today’s animated films are rarely without a sermon to preach. Smallfoot is no exception. The problem with Smallfoot is not that it preaches, but in what preaches. Lurking behind a thin veil of animated charm is a bitter, anti-religious worldview.
ABOUT THE FILM
Smallfoot is the story about a clash between two worlds—the Yeti and the humans (called “smallfeet” by the former). The humans are equivalent to the “bigfoot” for the yeti, an elusive monster that most believe to be a myth. However, when one yeti discovers a human, he is banished from the mountain for spreading “dangerous lies” about the existence of the “smallfoot.” The story takes off when the banished yeti descends the mountain and makes contact and, eventually, builds a friendship with the human.
As is now standard, the film features an impressive array of voice-actors, from hunky leading man Channing Tatum, to talkshow host James Corden, to popstar Zendaya. Even LeBron James steps off the basketball court to voice a yeti.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
On The Surface — (Profanity, Sexual content, violence, etc.).
Smallfoot is a standard G-rated animated flick that is safe for most young eyes and ears.
Beneath the Surface — (Themes, philosophical messages, worldview, etc.).
Acceptance of “The Other.”
The one true inspiration in the film is the innovative and highly effective gimmick of having both the humans and yeti unable to understand each other. From the POV of the human characters, the yeti speak only in monstrous grunts while, from the yeti’s perspective, the human speak only in high-pitch squeaks. Throughout the film, the human and yeti protagonists overcome the communicative barrier and learn that despite their physiological and cultural differences, they are more similar than first impressions suggest. This is far from a novel message, but the film repackages this timeless truth that there is always more about people than meets the eye, and that what we have in common is more than what differentiates us.
Ignorant Religion vs. Modern Enlightenment.
Unfortunately, the commendable message mentioned above is largely overshadowed by an underlying theme that ultimately consumes the film: the need to overthrow the oppressive reign of superstitious and primitive religion in the name of enlightenment and progress.
The yeti are portrayed as western culture prior to the Enlightenment. Much like their primitive human Flat-Earther counterparts, the yeti believe that the world (which contains only their mountain habitat) sits on the back of wooly mammoths (“it’s mammoth all the way done!” proclaims one unsophisticated yeti).
Migo, the yeti protagonist (voiced by Channing Tatum), aspires to follow his family legacy as a gong-ringer; that is, a yeti who straps a rock to their head and launches themselves head-first to ring a gong, which they believe is necessary for the sun to rise. While detailing the family tree, Migo’s father stops to scorn one ancestor with his “crazy mallet theory”—a yeti who echos Galileo and his telescope as a martyr for science. Later, it is implied that many of the yeti, such as Migo’s father, know deep-down that their superstitions are false but are too afraid of change and the unknown to confront the truth, and thus they willingly remain shackled to their ignorance (“Religion is the opium of the masses,” as Karl Marx wrote).
The yeti tribe is led by The Stonekeeper, a papal figure who embodies all of the grotesque stereotypes of organized religion. In a plot twist near the end of the film, it is revealed that The Stonekeeper is fully aware of the existence of the “smallfeet,” and has purposefully kept the other yeti ignorant. The thick fog that shrouds their mountain sanctuary is artificially produced, the frightening stories of the humans fabricated, and The Stones (the “yeti-Bible”) are altered or added to as-needed. The reason for such trickery, as proclaimed during a grim and moody musical number, is simply: “Power” (Christopher Hitchens is rolling over in his grave to give this film two enthusiastic thumbs up).
When Migo is banished from the village (for daring to question the false teachings of The Stones and their denial of the existence of humans), he joins a rag-tag group of other outcasts. Only by the noble work of these exiles, the “yeti Illuminati”, are the other yeti able to break free of the Stonekeeper’s oppressive lies and discover the truth.
Handled with more skill and nuance, Smallfoot might have been an effective vehicle to explore important issues such as the relationship between faith and science, or the importance of evaluating worldview rather than blindly accepting what the culture claims to be true. However,. rather than chisel away with a pick, the film elects to use a sledgehammer. Instead of providing open-ended questions for family discussion, the film force-feeds viewers with loud, black-and-white answers. As a result, the story is suffocated under the burden of delivering its pre-determined sermon, and it is not a very inspiring one.
C.S. Lewis understood that the rich theological themes in The Chronicles of Narnia would be lost on most young readers, but he hoped that when the children encountered those themes again later in life, they would already be familiar and thus easier to embrace. While no child is likely to ponder deep metaphysical questions or spiritual doubts after watching the film, Christians should not be indifferent to the stories, themes, and messages we are familiarizing for our children.
The Bottom Line: This movie will not set a child on the fast track to skepticism/atheism. At the same time, with so many superior animated films available today, Christian parents are better off giving Smallfoot a pass.