While it never quite reaches the full potential of its premise's clever ideas, the CG-animated adventure "Smallfoot" has enough going for it to make a satisfying all-ages film, during a season when those are in relatively short supply at the multiplex.
At the film's center are themes involving the importance of thinking critically about the world around you, learning to question established norms, and the realization that keeping people fearful can be a powerful governmental tool to control the population.
Those are subversive concepts to build children's entertainment on, and the screenplay by Karey Kirkpatrick and Clare Sera (from a story John Requa, Glenn Ficarra and Kirkpatrick, in turn based on the book "Yeti Tracks" by Sergio Pablos) finds smart ways to frame a plot around them. But in the end those concepts are often more interesting than the execution, which resorts to uneven humor and a handful of songs that feel shoehorned into the story (though the hip-hop lite "Let It Lie," performed by Common, is pretty solid).
The story's hero is Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum), an idealistic young yeti who lives in a village high atop the snowy Himalayan mountains. His tribe live their unquestioning lives according to tenants inscribed in hundreds of sacred stone tablets protected and tended to by the village's leader, the Stonekeeper (Common). They're taught that nothing exists below the layer of clouds at the mountain's base -- or rather what they're led to believe is its base -- so there's no reason to ever venture beyond the village ("it's just clouds all the way down," as Migo puts it, a subtle nod to the legend of the World Turtle).
Then one day Migo encounters a human (known to the yetis as a "smallfoot"), a creature proclaimed in the stones to be a myth. But when he attempts to tell his fellow villagers of the incredible thing he's seen, the Stonekeeper convinces the rest of the tribe that it's a lie, and Migo is banished. After all, if one stone is wrong, others might be as well, and if the yetis realize this, there's potential for the whole civilization to collapse.
Migo heads out to prove that he's telling the truth, with the help of a rebellious sect of yetis. Headed by the Stonekeeper's daughter, Meechee (Zendaya), this group has spent years gathering evidence that the smallfoot exist.
Meanwhile, down in the human city below, nature TV show host Percy (James Corden) is looking for a juicy find to boost his sagging ratings. Circumstances conspire to bring Migo and Percy together, and -- though they don't understand each other's language -- they eventually find that by working together, they might both be able to benefit. As required of a kiddie flick, there are lessons to be learned along the way, in this case about having compassion for those who are different, and that knowing the truth is best, even when it's complicated and scary.
With fun character designs, and some visual gags that call to mind classic Warner Bros cartoons, "Smallfoot" functions as a bright, colorful entertainment that sneaks in some slyly subversive messages without becoming preachy. It's not up with the best of the studio's animated offerings like "The Lego Movie," but families -- especially their youngest members -- are likely to leave satisfied, and maybe even a little more "woke" in the process.