The Warner Bros. animated feature Smallfoot is sure to be one of those movies your kids want to watch over and over and over. The story is simple yet brimming with plot, the soundtrack is full of catchy pop tunes, and the slapstick is always funny. But while young audiences will beg to go see it again and again in the theater, that’s just too expensive. And even when Smallfoot arrives on video, parents are going to go crazy with the latest obsession being demanded and played constantly. For our own sanity and their own cultural development, we need our children to give some other movies a look.
Smallfoot is actually pretty derivative. I’d go as far as to call it a “moanabe.” But that shouldn’t be a criticism since animated features and the fairy tales that have inspired them have historically followed familiar narrative patterns and tropes. The similarities to the stuff of the past allow for easy recommendation of older titles — not that the littlest of kids will ever be game for alternatives, though it’s worth a try. Some of the below movies — the earlier releases and live-action features — will be better appreciated by older kids, of course, so keep that in mind when selecting a Smallfoot substitute.
King Kong (1933)
The original version of King Kong, with its stop-motion animation and other dated charms, can be enjoyed by younger viewers much more than the remakes and spinoffs. Here’s a movie that’s also about a large legendary creature that one human befriends but other humans want to harm or exploit. The former, a woman initially scared by the giant ape Kong, begins to see a softer side to the “monster,” which shows its good nature while protecting her during a fight with another creature — similar to the scene in Smallfoot when Migo shields Percy from a huge seemingly ferocious bear.
The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas (1957)
Technically, this is a horror movie and not intended as a family-friendly feature. But even for a 61-year-old Hammer release, it’s not too scary or inappropriate for young audiences. Really the only reason why the very small kids won’t be as into it is that they’d be bored. But the grade-schoolers and preteens could find entertainment in the story of a scientific expedition to find the legendary Yeti where those bad men interested in killing and/or exploiting the creatures are killed and the creatures themselves are revealed to be intelligent and deserving of being left alone. Just tell your kids it stars Grand Moff Tarkin from Star Wars.
The Abominable Snow Rabbit (1961)
One of the clear influences on Smallfoot is classic Looney Tunes cartoons (made by the same studio), mostly in the slapstick gags of the new animated feature. Channing Tatum, who voices the hero Migo, has acknowledged the project appealed to him because of his love for Looney Tunes and the movie’s similar sensibilities. The Abominable Snow Rabbit happens to be a Looney Tunes short that also obviously involves the same legendary creatures. Directed by Chuck Jones near the end of his run with Warner Bros., the film follows Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck to the Himalayas after a wrong turn on their way to Palm Springs. They meet a Yeti modeled after Lenny from “Of Mice and Men,” who is only accidentally harmful to his visitors. The Yeti, later known to be named Hugo, returned alongside Bugs plus Marvin the Martian in the 1980 short Spaced-Out Bunny.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
Is it close enough to Christmas yet to recommend this classic stop-motion animated special? Based on the holiday tune of the same name, the short introduces a number of additional characters outsides of Santa’s village at the North Pole, including a Yeti — called an abominable snow monster — named Bumble who looks like he probably inspired the look of Migo and other Yetis in Smallfoot. He’s mostly a mean monster who wishes to eat reindeer, but in the end, after all his teeth are pulled out, he becomes a friendly creature and remains so in subsequent Rudolph specials. Another similarity with Smallfoot is that the short is about misfits who are different from the uniform look or desires of their social group — Rudolph in appearance and Hermey the elf in his dream of being a dentist — who venture beyond the vicinity of their town, but they are running away rather than banished.
The Jungle Book (1967)
In an NPR interview with Smallfoot director Karey Kilpatrick and his brother, Wayne Kilpatrick, with whom he co-wrote the movie’s songs, the former cites Disney’s The Jungle Book as one of the animated features they saw as kids and dreamed of growing up and making movies like them. Pinocchio and Lady and the Tramp are the others, but The Jungle Book is the most relevant of the three as it’s about a society of non-human creatures who fear the arrival of man, whom they see as a real threat. When one human outsider enters their world and turns out to be anything but dangerous, some of the animals start to become open to his kind but that creates a rift among the creatures of the jungle.
The Point! (1971)
In this made-for-TV animated feature, an adaptation of Harry Nilsson’s album of the same name released in conjunction with the record, a character is, like Migo, banished from his society for being different from everyone else. Named Oblio, the hero has a rounded head while everyone else in his village has a pointy head. During his existential adventures outside of the Land of the Point, mostly in the Pointless Village, Oblio discovers that everything indeed has a point, even him. The Point! director Fred Wolf would go on to adapt another musical work with deep themes for children as the 1978 animated short for TV Puff the Magic Dragon.
The Mysterious Monsters (1975)
This week’s documentary recommendation is a G-rated nonfiction feature that older kids should find interesting. As is necessary with all docs and the importance of media literacy, they ought to be aware that The Mysterious Monsters is very much a product of its time, as many such films arrived in the 1970s about aliens, the Bermuda Triangle, and other mysteries of the unknown. This one looks into the claims of the existence of Yetis, Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness Monster, with focus on supposed evidence such as the 1934 Loch Ness photo that’s now known to be a fake, the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film of Bigfoot, and the hide and scalp of an “abominable snowman.”