Even the most ardent fans of animated films have to feel conflicted about seeing studios race each other to get the same basic concept into multiplexes. Animation is such a labor-intensive, artistically demanding craft — what a shame to have so many talented folks pour so much of themselves into a project that’s inevitably going to be diminished by all those direct comparisons to another. Why not devote the energy and imagination to some narratively uncontested idea?
We couldn’t help but regard the Mexican folk-art-styled “The Book of Life” (2014) differently after “Coco” (2017). Same for the super-villain-spotlighting “Megamind” and “Despicable Me” (both 2010). And “Shark Tale” (2004) and “Finding Nemo” (2003).
Now DreamWorks brings us its cartoon creature feature “Abominable,” a movie that follows on the heels of “Smallfoot” and “Missing Link,” two other yeti-themed adventures released within just the past year. Is there much point, when the preceding pair both made for solid, worthwhile family entertainment? Yes, as it turns out — not only is “Abominable” as amusing as the competition, it boasts a lyricism and sweetness uniquely, sublimely its own.
Chloe Bennet (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) plays Yi, a Shanghai teen in the Molly Ringwald “Pretty in Pink” mold, who’s constantly running to keep family heartache at bay — from one menial gig to another to her dreamer’s hideaway on her apartment building’s rooftop. With its view of a tour-the-Himalayas billboard, the perch also lures a furry, cutely hulking lab escapee (Joseph Izzo handles the creature-speak). Soon, a sympathetic Yi and her new mythical pal, Everest, are off on a trek to return him home.
The pair are impulsively joined by Yi’s vain crush, Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor), and her irrepressible, basketball-obsessed little cousin, Peng (Albert Tsai), a characterization-rich cocktail good for laughs throughout. Between our look at Yi and company’s life at home and our expansive view of their cross-China journey, the story is an even more welcome exploration of the Asian character aesthetics seen in, say, “Big Hero 6” (2014) and Pixar’s Oscar-winning short “Bao” (2018).
But writer-director Jill Culton (“Open Season,” 2006) and her animators make an even bigger impression with the film’s numerous visually and tonally poetic moments, from a contemplative, magic-infused sequence at the Rushmore-like Leshan Giant Buddha to the bonding that Yi and Everest do over her virtuoso, savage-breast-soothing violin playing.
Well, not so savage, actually, except maybe for when Eddie Izzard’s and Sarah Paulson’s cryptozoologist baddies get too close. With Everest’s lovably squashed features, he looks like a snowy design riff on studio cousin Toothless from “How to Train Your Dragon” (2010). Consider it one more way that this wonder-filled movie holds up to comparisons just fine.
Written and directed by Jill Culton. Starring Chloe Bennet, Tenzing Norgay Trainor, Albert Tsai, Joseph Izzo, Sarah Paulson, Eddie Izzard. Boston theaters, suburbs. 97 minutes. PG (some action, mild rude humor).
Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.