"Rather than exaggerating Chinese norms and stereotypes, hints of Asian customs are peppered in throughout the film"
Growing up-and frankly, even today-I felt a pervasive sense of shame and ostracism.
Not the type obvious in nature, like being bullied as a kid. But the insidious type: its origins hard to pinpoint, and ever elusive–waxing and waning with age, time, and circumstances.
In the age of #RepresentationMatters and socially groundbreaking movies like Crazy Rich Asians and Searching, this shame nagged away at me. Thoughts of anger surfaced, toward my own people.
How dare we care so deeply about such a trivial matter, when other minority groups are suffering worse injustices?
How dare we take away from their voices? How dare we try to take the spotlight?
These negative feelings lifted, after watching DreamWorks Animation and Pearl Studio’s latest kids flick: Abominable.
Directed by Jill Culton, Abominable follows the wild adventures of Yi (Chloe Bennet) and her posse, Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainori) and Peng (Albert Tsai), as they journey throughout parts of China to bring their new Yeti friend, Everest, home. Everest is fun-loving, yet misunderstood by most of the rest of society, which is why he cannot remain amongst humankind. A metaphor for the pariahs of our time, perhaps (e.g. transgender people)?
Rather than exaggerating Chinese norms and stereotypes, hints of Asian customs are peppered in throughout the film.
The grandma, or ‘Nai Nai’ (Tsai Chin) consistently doles out well-meaning criticism (“Always busy, never home”) toward her family, Yi and Yi’s mother. She never shies away from declaring her self-proclaimed proverbs under any occasion.
Her stature is small, and her mouth-watering baos are famous. She never forgets to cast judgment everytime Yi tries to leave the dwelling on her own–something I suspect a lot of 2nd generation Asians are familiar with. Upon returning home, heart pounding with confused ambivalence, I learned Abominable boasts a supra-majority Asian cast. Said ambivalence began to swell into a healthy feeling of cultural pride.
Images of the succulent, steaming, fluffy baos Nai Nai cooked for Yi and friends made its way to the forefront of my mental consciousness. I began to appreciate the depth that was written into each character.
I saw myself in Yi: tom-boyish, stubborn, hard-headed, sweet, empathetic, and fiercely independent. Most importantly–she embodied a deep sense of grief.
Had I ever felt this way as a child? Had I ever truly, really identified so deeply with a movie character? As an insecure kid, had any movie ever sparked such pride and gratification in me?
Even movies like Mulan, in retrospect, seem rife with stereotypes and inaccurate representations of Western people’s ideas of the “exotic, Oriental way of life.”
In the end, Abominable offers a rare form of validation. A wonderful message to children–Asian children, especially–that their thoughts, feelings, unique struggles, and life experiences are valid. This movie gives me hope: hope that the next generation of self-doubting Asian children will not feel the same sense of “Other” that many 2nd generation Asians felt growing up, and continue to feel.
To see Yi and friends exhibit such depth and intricacy in human dynamics was truly refreshing. Yi, Jin, Peng, and Everest, are all representative of the epic truth in humanity that your inner and outer experiences are valid, no matter who you are, what you are, or where you come from.
Abominable is indeed a children’s movie worth watching, for all ages.
Abominable will be released on 27 September 2019.
Jessie is a 2nd generation Asian American and an advocate. Follow her on Twitter or visit her website at www.jessiehuang.com.