Abominable 2019 ****


The sound of shared laughter is one of the most magical things in cinema; there was plenty of it at the public screening of Dreamworks’s Abominable that I attended at the weekend. The packed house was, presumably, not drawn by political controversy over a map which appears in the film, but due to the How To Train Your Dragon connection via the film’s makers; Everest the Yeti might not be quite as complex a character as Toothless the Dragon, but he’ll do for now.

Everest is introduced in a fast-out-of-the-traps opening that sees him escaping from a holding pen in a laboratory, and swiftly making friends with Yi (Chloe Bennett). She has a yearning to escape from her family in Shanghai, and mourns her father by playing her violin to the city skyline at night. Yi and Everest begins a repatriation mission to get Everest back to his Himalayan family, very much in the style of Missing Link, with Eddie Izzard and Sarah Paulson in pursuit.

Abominable rises above many of the familiar tropes of animation; it’s slower than might be expected, and it takes a long time for the pursuers to catch up with the pursued for a vertiginous rope-bridge climax. Along the way, there are some touches to savour, notably the comical whooping snakes that steal scene after scene with their comic timing. But almost as sweet as the children’s laughter at their antics are the gasps of disbelief when it look like poor Everest is done for. His recovery, with a little help from Yi and her violin, makes for a rousing finale and hits just the right spot with a positive message that doesn’t feel contrived.

Animated films are ten a penny, and there’s always plenty of cheap imitations. The animation standard is high here, but what sets Abominable on the way to financial good heath and worldwide popularity is the standard of the film’s conception; Everest isn’t immediately lovable, and earns our affections through an engaging and imaginative story; this is no Mac and Me rip-off, but a sweet story of friendship between human and monster, and one that deserves its growing reputation and success. For Pixar graduate Jill Culton, who wrote and directed here, it’s a real triumph.

The Perfection 2019 ***

A savvy pick-up from Netflix, The Perfection is a tricky thriller from director Richard Shepard; without giving any of the plot twists away, The Perfection starts out like an innocuous tale of music-school rivalry and then takes the kind of very dark twists that should cause teenagers to flock to post on social media. As a regular director on Lena Dunham’s Girls, Shepard is hardly an unknown quantity, but his film work includes The Matador and Dom Hemingway, two excellent examples of how a big stars’s fame (Pierce Brosnan and Jude Law respectively) can be entertainingly subverted to dramatic effect. Here, it’s genre conventions which get bent; Charlotte (Allison Williams) and Lizzie (Logan Browning) are attending the same music school, and meet up again in Shanghai, where they begin a sexual relationship. But there’s a plague of sorts going around, and a bus journey leads to violence and trauma. The Perfection’s big mid-way twist doesn’t quite fit the action in the second half of the film, and the story elements don’t gel, and yet it’s still reasonably fun to take the journey, even if the final revelations will cause some eye-rolling. Williams and Browning both make a big impression, but it’s the impish wit of Shepard that makes The Perfection worth watching.