Warner Bros.
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September 28, 2018 at 01:57 PM EDT

In the highest peaks of the Himalayas, legend persists of a strange, savage beast, a creature so terrible, he can hardly be named: the Abominable Human. Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum) has heard the rumors, whispered folktales of these pink and hairless beings with their teeny-tiny feet. He himself is a Bigfoot — a lumbering blue-lipped giant fallen, like his fellow Bigs, “from the butt of the Great Sky Yak.”

Migo’s destiny is already written; like his flat-headed dad (Danny DeVito), he will bang the daily sun gong, ensuring that it still rises every morning (per ancient tradition, the head is the part that has to hit the gong; it also compresses the spine to appropriately diminutive DeVito size). But the young yeti also holds on to his own rogue ideas, including the thrilling possibility of other species out there below the clouds. And when a plane containing a screaming Homo sapiens crashes into his path one day, he has his answer: They’re real, and they’re spectacular. Except to the Bigs, human talk sounds like squeaky Esperanto; to humans, Bigs’ voices sound like hell-mouth roars. So they’re forced to communicate via semaphore or Candy Crush — or, of course, original song.

Into the Big-Small breach comes Percy (James Corden), a TV host desperate to goose his declining ratings. Anyone who’s ever watched an hour of deep cable will recognize the type: manic, preening, a capped-toothed dilettante in a puffer vest. As soon as he spots Migo, Percy knows this get could be his holy grail and even his EGOT if he plays it right — and if his conscience doesn’t get to him first.

Smallfoot comes from the Warner Animation Group (Storks, The LEGO Movie), which means it falls under the vast umbrella of Studios That Are Not Pixar. And what company, really, would dare compete with the fanatically detailed whimsy of Inside Out or Finding Nemo, where every frame seems to have its own fiber-optic glow and each teachable moment reaches out to pierce the heart of pint-size viewers (and their grown-up caretakers too)? Probably not the guys whose main innovation so far has been glomming the DC Universe — in the form of a rude, aggressively cube-y Batman — onto a lucrative LEGO sequel. Migo’s physical details are cool but quotidian; he essentially looks like an extra-large Gumby doll hot-glued in IKEA sheepskin, and his friends are mostly funhouse-mirror variations on the theme. (The budget apparently did not extend to noses.)

Still, Smallfoot has its own silly, beastie charm. Smart voice casting helps: Tatum’s sweet meathead with a dream; Corden, bringing the dry-vermouth snap of his British humor; Common as the Bigs’ cautionary, Moses-like elder; Zendaya as the enlightened love interest; chattering yeti-squad members Gina Rodriguez and LeBron James. It all pretty much melts away as soon as the credits roll, a Nestlé Drumstick in the sun. But beneath the easy slapstick, there’s a timely moral too: Don’t fear the unknown, embrace it. Just try not to squish it. B

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