Since Blumhouse’s The Hunt won’t be opening tonight thanks to the utter insanity that is today’s political landscape, the only wide release newbie this weekend will be DreamWorks Animation and Pearl Studio’s Abominable. If I can convince the kids to see it with me tonight, I’ll try to have a review for tomorrow morning, but the film is something of a test case in a few areas.
It’s the first non-sequel DWA toon to open since Comcast purchased DreamWorks Animation from Jeffrey Katzenberg in late 2016. Yes, they successfully sold How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World to $160 million domestic and $520 million worldwide (on a $125 million budget) even during a year when “five years later” sequels are dropping like flies, but that was still a well-liked sequel to a well-liked franchise.
Abominable, set in modern-day Shanghai, is a true original. That’s noteworthy in-and-of-itself, as quite a few DreamWorks toons are adaptations of comparatively little-known children’s books, although I imagine most folks flocking to the Shrek movies, Home or The Boss Baby didn’t read the source material, and yes that’s different from an IP pitch like Trolls or Captain Underpants. Abominable is their first outright original since Turbo back in 2013.
The film, about a teen (Chloe Bennet) and her friends embarking on a 2,000-mile adventure across China to return a young Yeti to his family, is also a Hollywood/China co-production. It is also the first major Hollywood animated movie with a woman (Jill Culton) as the sole writer and the lead director (Todd Wilderman got co-director credit). Say what you will about DreamWorks, but the studio that hired Jennifer Nelson Yuh to direct Kung Fu Panda 2 in 2011 and Peter Ramsey to helm Rise of the Guardians in 2012 has been ahead of the curve in this arena.
Anyway, the big question, to the extent that it matters for a movie which only cost $75 million (much less than the standard DWA toon), is whether it can break out in North America and China. The film won’t open in China until October 1, but the hope is that the well-reviewed fantasy adventure will play closer to The Foreigner or The Meg than The Great Wall or even xXx: Return of Xander Cage.