Film review: Smallfoot

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, September 28th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Megan Basham reviews a new film where worldview questions come to the forefront.

But probably not in the way the filmmakers intended.

MEGAN BASHAM, FILM CRITIC: There are two ways to look at Smallfoot, the latest big animated movie from Warner Brothers. On the one hand, it presents caricatures of religion in general that are supposed to tweak Christianity. Yet they pack no real punch because they fail so spectacularly to capture anything approaching Biblical belief.

So what’s the harm in watching something silly that ultimately reminds us we aren’t a people of a superstitious and unreasonable faith?

On the other hand, can we really expect the movie’s target audience—young children—to mentally defend their inexperienced faith against crude and even mean-spirited attacks wrapped in a package of cute, fuzzy creatures?

I’m all for engaging with entertainment that causes me to rise to the challenge skepticism offers and consider afresh the reasons for the hope that is in me. But I’m not so sure my 4- or 9-year-old is ready to take on a similar exercise. And that is certainly what Smallfoot is asking children from families with any serious religious beliefs to do.

As the film opens, a community of yeti enjoy a blissful agrarian existence on a mountainside hidden high in the Himalayas. Well, they’re mostly blissful. A few renegade outcasts harbor doubts about the yetis’ theocratic way of life that’s based on a series of religious “laws.” Lest we miss the connection, the laws are written on small stone tablets, given by direct revelation to the village, known as the Stonekeeper.

Here are the two biggest points of heresy. First, whether yeti-kind really came into existence when they—quote—“fell out of the Great Yak’s butt.” No, I’m not kidding. And second, whether it’s really true that there’s no such thing as the “smallfoot,” aka humans.

Cheerful village idiot Migo—played by a bland Channing Tatum—is the Yeti faith’s biggest cheerleader. He tells little yeti in a catchy tune that if they have any doubts about what’s written on the stones, the best thing to do is “stuff them down deep inside” until they go away. That is, until a chance accident places him squarely in a smallfoot’s path. Then he returns to the village and declares his discovery.

AUDIO: It’s a terrifying creature with perfect white teeth and breath that just smells all minty fresh. And the only hair it has on its entire body is on the top of its head. Ah! Stop it, Migo! You’re scaring them. Hey! Don’t be scared! It’s just a story. Everyone knows that the smallfoot isn’t real. Or is it? Oh, that’s nice. Real nice. Scar them for life.

Like any good oppressor of progress, Stonekeeper demands that Migo recant. He won’t. Thus Migo is banished for daring to contradict the religious texts of his community.

As you may be able to guess, he joins forces with the science-minded outcasts, including the Stonekeeper’s daughter Meechee. Together they go on a quest to find a smallfoot and prove that not only are the sacred laws about smallfeet wrong, but so is everything else written on the stone tablets.

Throughout a stark dichotomy is set up between the open-minded camp that discovers truth through nature—and the close-minded, dogmatic camp of Stonekeeper that sees any attempt to further learning as a threat. Never does it suggest that these two approaches can be anything but exclusive.

Guess which side our good guys fall on? And, as we might expect, they eventually discover their religion is a product of self-serving human—excuse me, yeti—invention and not a result of divine revelation.

Let’s just say I was glad my 9-year-old wasn’t able to attend this movie with me and my 4-year-old was so bored she spent most of the movie whining for more candy.

Ironically, the movie does do a tremendous job illustrating what a burden man-made religion is. Stonekeeper not only enforces the laws, he wears them. In a coat made up of the small tablets, he is literally “heavy-laden” with all the rules he and the other yeti have to follow to be good citizens. And that is all faiths without a sacrificed savior can ever be.

If your children are spiritually mature enough to understand how this reflects Biblical truth, then Smallfoot might provide good post-movie-ice-cream conversation. But your entertainment dollars are probably best spent elsewhere.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.

(Warner Bros. Pictures via AP) This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows the character Migo from the animated film “Smallfoot.” 

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