It’s fun-with-myths time in an even bigger way than the title suggests in “Smallfoot,” an animated feature that puts some clever thought into the fantastical, conundrum-filled world it creates. Everyone from Channing Tatum to Danny DeVito to Hollywood transplant LeBron James is here voicing the movie’s winsomely rendered snow creatures, but it’s the creative story more than the routine-if-likable characters that makes this one so engaging.
Tatum shows off his comedy abs (and his singing voice) as Migo, a yeti whose good cheer might go against all those fearsome legends, but is completely typical of his irrepressible Himalayan tribe. The group’s appearance alone is enough to get us smiling, as director Karey Kirkpatrick (“Over the Hedge”) takes the white frizz and frostbite-blue lips of Rankin/Bass’s old Abominable Snowman cartoon template and goes flying in all sorts of directions. (James’s goofy Gwangi looks cloned from the woolly gremlin that “terrorizes” William Shatner in a classic “Twilight Zone” episode.)
When a plane crash-lands near the yetis’ hidden outpost, Migo finds it awfully tough to convince them that his fleeting encounter with a fabled human “smallfoot” actually happened. Village elder Stonekeeper (Common) has always told them that there’s merely a void beneath the cloudline, and that their mountain floats on the backs of great mammoths. Our hero’s heresy is enough to get him banished.
Discouraged but not defeated thanks to secret support from the chief’s daughter (Zendaya) and a handful of others, Migo heads down the mountain in search of proof. (You’ll enjoy the journey: The story’s various descents and return climbs are visually inspired slapstick highlights.) Time for a fateful run-in with ratings-starved adventure TV personality Percy Patterson (intermittently over-amped James Corden), who even gets to do a karaoke number, lest Corden’s voice go unrecognized.
Migo now has his elusive evidence, but what does it mean for his people and their quaint, sheltered existence? Kirkpatrick does some compelling musing on the question in his script, co-written from a story he developed with John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (“This Is Us”).
Part of the answer comes in verse, in a portentous Common track that’s one of a few musically pedestrian but lyrically striking numbers penned by Kirkpatrick and his brother, Wayne. Imagine it: kids’ fare that somehow gets away with rapping about genocide and annihilation — in so many words! Common’s character might come across as a stock ’toon sage counseling a stock ’toon flock, but they’re products of a story that’s a bit more than that.
Directed by Karey Kirkpatrick. Written by Kirkpatrick and Clare Sera. Starring the voices of Channing Tatum, James Corden, Zendaya, Common. Boston theaters, suburbs. 96 minutes. PG (action, rude humor, thematic elements).Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.