“Nai Nai’s pork buns with extra pork” sums up Pearl Studio’s sophomore feature film “Abominable.” Chinese pork buns often represent the wistful memories of simple homemade meals from when life was tender and fresh, still budding. When one is rooted and grounded in family, slowly ripening into the opportunity to blossom.
Prior to “Abominable,” Pearl Studio started its collaboration with DreamWorks Animation with “Kung Fu Panda 3,” which was lackluster to say the least. The third installment of this adored franchise was underwhelming in comparison to the first two, and the most plausible reason points to the addition of Pearl Studio on the team. But with its newest collaborative effort, Pearl Studio and DreamWorks now seem to have discovered their missing synergy. “Abominable” is a serving of pork buns for older audiences, harkening back to DreamWorks’ original style found in films such as “Shrek,” “Bee Movie” and “Madagascar” — with Pearl Studio providing the extra pork.
It’s crucial to note that for the most part, DreamWorks hasn’t historically ventured into creating films that demand a cultural sensitivity and knowledge (compared to studios like Disney and Pixar, which have crafted masterpieces such as “Coco” and “Mulan”). Perhaps this is one reason why DreamWorks decided to work with Pearl Studio: an authentic resource to help build culturally appropriate stories and produce greater access to reach Chinese audiences.
Business intentions aside, DreamWorks and Pearl Studio deliver a hot meal to Shanghai, China, an order for Asia’s abominable snowman, the Yeti. After stumbling upon a Yeti on her apartment building, teenage girl Yi (Chloe Bennet) sets out on a journey with friends Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) and Peng (Albert Tsai) to return him home to the Himalayas and escape animal hoarders.
“Abominable” is unapologetically DreamWorks. As usual, the humor is brazenly absurd, but oh so relatable, with the power to make old fans have stomachaches of laughter. Gigantic blueberries, thumb wars, jian dao shi tou bu (rock, paper, scissors), whooping snakes and “don’t body shame my yak” is all one needs to know and understand. Not trying to be an incredibly layered and nuanced film — a purpose found in many Pixar films — “Abominable” shines for what it is: unadulterated, childish entertainment.
Pearl Studio also delights with the design of Yi’s home. Viewers are merely given the main living room, but if one observes closely, it greatly signifies their ethnic heritage. Nai Nai’s (Tsai Chin) always cooking with her wok, a plate of fruit on the counter covered to protect from flies and much more elaborate designs and embellishments exude the presence of a Chinese family. Yet maybe the clearest depiction and salute to the typical lifestyle many Asians come across as kids is that Yi plays the violin. Pivotal to this portrayal is the fact that the violin is Yi’s cherished connection with her dad, who taught her how to play before he passed away. This is what absolves this aspect from being stereotypical; the violin is central to her character. It’s not left to the side as a distant object supposedly designating her as Asian, it is essential to who she is and fortifies her into a sincere person.
In the process of returning the Yeti home, Yi finds herself returning home to her family as well after wrestling with her dad’s passing. She sits at the dinner table with her family for the first time in a while and bites into a scrumptious pork bun. One can blossom and leave, but in the end, you’re always connected to your roots. Everyone has a pork bun in their life. What’s yours?
Contact Cameron Opartkiettikul at [email protected].