The debunking of a creation myth isn’t the sort of narrative that usually drives an animated Hollywood comedy.
Yet after a rather bland beginning, that is exactly what sets “Smallfoot” apart, along with some inspired slapstick stunts. This entertaining fantasy has intellectual ballast, but it’s cleverly disguised.
A Himalayan yeti named Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum) challenges the origin story of his isolated village high above the clouds. Etched in stones, it says that yetis were somehow birthed by mammoths, who hold up the yetis’ icy land on their backs. One day, having fallen partway down the mountain, Migo is nearly hit by a crashing plane. He sees the tiny unconscious pilot, proof that the yeti villagers’ longtime myth of a hairless smallfoot “monster” is actually a fact.
Screenwriters Karey Kirkpatrick (who also directed) and Clare Sera, expanding on the book “Yeti Tracks” by Sergio Pablos, have done a switcheroo. In their world, the yetis — aka Bigfoot, Sasquatch, abominable snowman — are real, and they think humans are just myth.
Migo can’t prove his discovery, as plane and pilot fall away, but his excited talk gets him into trouble. He’s banished from the village by the stonekeeper. Somberly voiced by Common, the stonekeeper still pushes the old yeti origin story, although it defies logic, and squelches questions.
Determined to prove that his discovery was real, Migo goes in search of the smallfoot. He’s joined by a quartet of freethinking yetis who call themselves the Smallfoot Evidentiary Society, or S.E.S., led by Migo’s crush, the brainiac Meechee (Zendaya). In a human village far down the mountain, Migo comes face to face with Percy (James Corden of “The Late Late Show”), the host of a TV animal show. Percy plans to fake the discovery of a yeti to boost his ratings. Then he meets the real thing in Migo. Their getting-to-know-you sequence is one of the film’s funniest riffs.
Confronted with concrete evidence that a smallfoot exists, the stonekeeper tells Migo a grim tale about why yetis and humans must remain ignorant of one another. The rap “Let It Lie” may well be the only song in a family-friendly animated film that includes the word “genocidal.”
Not all eight musical numbers in “Smallfoot” make such a strong impression, but Percy’s anthem to angst, “Percy’s Pressure” — lifted and rewritten from Queen’s “Under Pressure” — is a hoot. Meechee also gets a tuneful ode to intellectual curiosity, “Wonderful Questions.” (Kirkpatrick wrote most of the songs with his brother, Wayne. The score for the Broadway show “Something Rotten!” is their work, too.)
Basketball star LeBron James stands out among several funny supporting characters as Gwangi, a member of S.E.S. who’s as wide as he is tall and sees conspiracies everywhere.
On a sheer technical measure, the animators have achieved a new level of cuddle-worthy computer-generated hair in those yetis, who have, of course, enormous feet as well as blue lips and horns.
You can trace “Smallfoot’s” DNA to many sources: It nods to Bill Murray’s ethically challenged TV weatherman in “Groundhog Day” , to the rebellious tap-dancing penguin in “Happy Feet” and even to Henrik Ibsen’s play “An Enemy of the People,” about a man who becomes a pariah in his town for telling the truth. But “Smallfoot” conjures its own lighter-than-air tale from those ingredients.