“Smallfoot” and “The Sisters Brothers” are two films that are opening during the weekend of Sept. 28-30, 2018, and they could not be further apart in quality, atmosphere, mood, outlook, approach, intensity, appeal and entertainment factors—“Smallfoot” is an enchanting, positive, upbeat, cheery, goofy (in a good way), silly (in a good way), optimistic, funny and thoroughly entertaining animated musical comedy that is recommended for everyone on the planet—from the youngest kids to the oldest of adults—and “The Sisters Brothers” is a depressing, dreary, bleak, stark, negative, pessimistic, unfunny and grossly violent and consistently dark movie that has just about zero qualities to recommend to anyone with a working heart.

Thus, for moviegoers looking to head out to the movie theaters for this last weekend of September, 2018—just gather together your closest friends and family members—again, no matter what the age or demographic—and go out and enjoy “Smallfoot.” As for “The Sisters Brothers”—approach this as you would that shady character walking down the sidewalk towards you late at night in a suspicious manner: cross the street, get out of the way, and avoid it at all costs, for your psychological, filmgoing and overall mental health.

Starring Channing Tatum, James Corden, Zendaya, Common, LeBron James, Danny DeVito, Gina Rodriguez, Yara Shahidi, Ely Henry, Jimmy Tatro
Written by Karey Kirkpatrick and Clare Sera
Story by John Requa, Glenn Ficarra and Karey Kirkpatrick
Based on “Yeti Tracks” by Sergio Pablos
Directed by Karey Kirkpatrick
Produced by Bonne Radford, Glenn Ficarra and John Faqua
Music by Heitor Pereira
Edited by Peter Ettinger

Cultures, communities and countries literally around the Earth have had Bigfoot/Yeti/Sasquatch/Whatever-Similar-Beast-style mythological, supernatural and paranormal folktale legends for centuries, from the North American tales of Bigfoot and Sasquatch to the Abominable Snowman and Yeti legends all the way across the world in Nepal, Bhutan and Tipet. And television and Hollywood have been right there in the game, releasing scores of movies based on these legends for decades, from straight-ahead horrorfests such as 1972’s classic B-movie frightfest “The Legend of Boggy Creek” to 1987’s silly-and-goofy-fun comedy “Harry and the Hendersons” to Maryland’s own Ed Sanchez’s and Jamie Nash’s 2014 “Exists”—among many others, of course.

And now, filmgoers have a quite original—and decidedly non-scary, non-horror—take on the legend with “Smallfoot,” which is based on “Yeti Tracks” by Sergio Pablos, hilariously and enjoyably written by Karey Kirkpatrick and Clare Sera and lightly, sprightly and breezingly directed by Kirkpatrick. Turning all Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Yeti upsidedown and following in the Hendersons’ Yeti tracks, “Smallfoot” presents its leading Yeti characters as goofily (that word will keep coming up because the movie is consistently delightfully goofy) likeable, even lovable, creatures without a scary bone in their huge, towering, all-white hairy bodies. The Yetis in “Smallfoot” live in peace and harmony amongst each other in a blissful, clouded-off, communal, non-violent abode high atop everyone and everything atop a mountain that is continually blocked by clouds. Here, in their Yeti version of Dr. Seuss’ equally-blissful Whoville from “The Grinch That Stole Christmas” (which “Smallfoot” resembles in many ways, but more as a homage than a ripoff), these lovable, huggable Yetis work, play, live, love, sleep, eat and congregate together every day without any contact with the outside world, blindly going about their daily doings oblivious to anything else on Earth. All is well in Yeti-world.

That is, of course, until the evil, greedy, money-hungry, ratings-starved, environmental-destroying, violent ways of the outside world abruptly, suddenly, and terrifyingly, hone in on the Yeti’s world, threatening, of course, to destroy their lifestyle—and their lives. It’s thus up to the Yetis to fight off the outside-world threats, save their way of life and themselves, learn to live with the rest of the world—and possibly become workable, liveable and survive-able members of the world community. Watching how all of this unfolds—with the Yetis speaking their own language and living their own lives completely apart from the rest of the world, but soon learning to co-habitate, relate and work with the rest of the planet through intuition, intelligence, understanding and pure heart and emotion—is the heart of “Smallfoot,” the basis of the story—and a story that, in the ends, sends several positive, encouraging and upbeat messages of hope, peace and love that are universal, always relevant and always important.

Thus, Kirkpatrick, Sera, Pablos and screen story co-creators John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (the pair behind “Cats and Dogs,” “Bad Santa”—we’ll politely brush that big mistake of a mess aside and forgive them for that horrorshow—and “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and “Focus”) wholeheartedly succeed with “Smallfoot” simply on the laurels of the positive messages, lessons and themes that are presented in the film, but a movie, of course, cannot succeed simply on story alone. So “Smallfoot” wonderfully succeeds on all filmic levels—as an animated film, as a musical, as a comedy, as a highly-recommended kids movie, as a movie without any traces of violence, blood, guts, cuss words, negativity or cynicism, and in the filmic areas of acting, writing, directing and production. The screenplay is always light, breezy, fun and funny, but, again, there’s those underlying positive messages providing some relevance, importance and intelligence. The voice acting is, well, spotty, yes, in overall terms of quality—there’s some casting missteps—but a few vets help save the day and they make up for the lesser acting by some of the actors. The production design, artwork, graphics, artistry, animation, movement, colors, designs and even animated musical numbers are wonderful to look at and sing along with, and filmgoers can see up on the screen the resulting work of the hundreds of animation artists that worked on the movie. And Kirkpatrick’s direction is smart—he keeps the movie moving fast—as it is primarily targeted for kids—but he also makes sure to include song breaks and comedy breaks and even some action sequences at the properly-paced-and-timed moments, to keep the story, story development, plot and plot development balanced and moving forward.

“Smallfoot” tells the story of that Yeti community whose blissful day-to-day existence is suddenly shaken when some members of the community accidentally interact with the real world beyond the Yeti’s cloud blockade. That real world means humans, of course, and, well, with humans, that means some ignorant, money-hungry and greedy humans. That also means some humans who are frightened of anything different, and, as always in monster movies—even kid-oriented animated musical comedy monster movies—those frightened humans sometimes tend to react with fear, ignorance, aggression, general stupidity and violence. As noted, there’s no real violence in “Smallfoot,” but the humans threaten violence when they’re confronted by the Yetis—but it’s mild, non-scary violence, mainly in the form of police officers running around in cars, helicopters and trucks in typical monster-movie mayhem. Yes, this overall, main, foundation story is cliched—man meets monster, man acts stupid and ignorant, man threatens monster with violence, man over-reacts, man is too far removed from the natural environment and wildlife, and man is bad, evil, greedy and destructive. However, that overall storyline, while, again, yes, tired and cliched, is eventually essential in monster movies to prove the messages that these movies want to present in the end: that man, continually, through the eons, still needs to learn how to live, interact and relate to everything else on the planet, and that man needs to stop being stupid. That may seem easy, and natural, but with man in real life continuing every day to ruin Earth’s natural environment, the lesson is essential, relevant, pertinent and important every single day—and in every single monster movie, no matter how many thousands of monster movies are written, produced and released in the theaters.

One major filmic aspect that sets “Smallfoot” apart from other recent animated films and other recent monster movies—animated or not—is the wholly welcome and happy inclusion in the movie of several absolutely uplifting, positive, melodic original songs. These songs are melodic, are rousing, and they help to lift the movie far above some recent animated movies. Of course, several years ago, there was a stream of successful—and good and recommended—musical comedy animated films, but there’s always a need for more. Animation and good stories and funny voices and characters are great, of course, but when filmmakers add a bevy of songs—and good songs, at that—that just lifts up the film even more. The presence of original songs additionally added to the already-present overall quality of another recent, positive, highly-recommended family film, the non-animated, 2017 holiday season hit and wonderfully produced “The Greatest Showman.” Who says the musical is dead? The musical is not dead, at least judging by the songs in “Smallfoot,” “The Greatest Showman” and, of course, “La-La Land.”

And several of the animated musical production numbers—yes, production numbers—in “Smallfoot” are dazzling—just simply dazzling. The combination of messages, lyrics, melodies and animation in several production numbers in “Smallfoot” are some of the highlights of the movie.

Alas, the one nitpick with “Smallfoot” is the less-than-stellar voice acting by some of the actors, most noticeably Zendaya, Common and LeBron James—yes, professional basketball’s LeBron James. These folks try their best to inject some genuine emotion into their characters, but most of the time, their line readings register as flat and even a bit amateurish. Luckily for the film, veteran actors—and superb voice actors—James Corden, Channing Tatum, Ely Henry and Danny DeVito have been cast, and Corden, Tatum, Henry and DeVito save the film. Corden plays the human who mainly interacts with the Yetis—the actual smallfoot of the title—that’s the title that the Yetis give to humans; DeVito plays one of the elder Yetis; Tatum plays the lead Yeti, who is on a search for self-discovery and Yeti-discovery that drives the movie; and Henry is hilariously one of the funny Yetis working to move the Yetis beyond their blockade into the rest of the world. Their voices and acting are above-average, and the producers deserve equal kudos for casting these actors, and equal negatives for some of the other casting. The characters played by Zendaya, Common and James would have registered on a greater scale by some better, more insightful casting.

Producers and directors need to always remember to cast veteran, experienced actors first for film roles—and not just names designed to generate attention and publicity. Gimmick casting always ends up disastrous for films, or certain aspects of films. There are scores of better actors who could have handled the Zendaya, Common and James roles in “Smallfoot” much better, and some better casting would have elevated this still-likeable, still-recommended film to an even higher level.

However, “Smallfoot” still succeeds, and is still fun, funny and entertaining. This final weekend of September, 2018, escape the barrage of rain and other negative events in the news recently, head out to the theaters, see “Smallfoot”—and leave the movie theater with a smile on your face. And a newfound appreciation and love of Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Yeti creatures, legends, myths and movies.

Starring John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Rutger Hauer
Written by Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain
Based on “The Sisters Brothers” by Patrick deWitt
Produced by Rosa Attab, Pascal Caucheteux, Michael De Luca, Allison Dickey and John C. Reilly
Directed by Jacques Audiard

Oddly, and strangely, the opening credits for the unwatchable, horridly bleak, stark, dark, depressing and wholly un-entertaining western “The Sisters Brothers” opens with a long list of unlucky production companies that contributed to the production of this wretchedly solemn and morbid waste of time at the movies. After struggling to watch this movie, and struggling to get to the welcome end credits, one can only wonder why on earth any of these production companies and concurrent producers signed up and onto this movie—the script alone should have sent dire warnings to avoid this mess at all costs, as noted above.

The problems with this movie are lengthy, but the list starts with the basic story, characters, plot, script and dialogue. The story is continually depressing and dark; all of the characters in the movie are unlikeable, despicable and negative and thus, eventually unwatchable and un-worthy of care or interest; the plot is minimal and far too basic; the script tries so hard to be deep and meaningful but is too clueless about its overbearing negativity, starkness, depression and sickly violence to register on any continually intelligent and insightful level; and the dialogue suffers the same fate—the writers struggle to be deep and meaningful, but they are unable to escape the dark black cloud of doom and gloom that, alas, hovers over this movie from start to finish, ruining any chance of anything filmic emerging as smart, watchable or entertaining.

It’s clear what the writers, Jacuest Audiard and Thomas Bidegain, working from the book “The Sisters Brothers” by Patrick deWitt and director Audiard are trying to do, but they just cannot succeed at that attempt—they are trying to make the lead characters, two brothers with the last name Sisters, likeable renegade and rebel criminals and outlaws in the mode of the anti-hero along the lines of, say, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Bonnie and Clyde or the Corleones, among many such similar filmic anti-heroes. However, the glory days of the true filmic anti-hero—loveable renegade criminals who somehow broke through their criminality and became folk heroes to the masses despite their genuine thuggery—was borne from, and flourished in, another time period, amid a different set of societal, cultural, communal, political—and filmic—scenarios, mainly during the 1960s and 1970s. Yes, yes, there’s always a time and place for a lovable anti-hero—even in equally-troubled and equally-screwed-up 2018—but, alas, 2018 is not 1969 (George Roy Hill’s and William Goldman’s classic “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”), 1967 (Arthur Penn’s, David Newman’s and Robert Benton’s “Bonnie and Clyde”) or 1972 or 1974 (Francis Ford Coppola’s and Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather” and Coppola’s and Puzo’s “The Godfather: Part II,” respectively). Many of the causes and issues may remain the same, but the times, they do a change. Meaning that the filmic anti-hero that was presented in many 1960s and 1970s films must be presented in a different, but still approachable, manner in a 2018. The filmmakers behind “The Sisters Brothers” are trying to do with their filmic forebearers achieved, but they fail miserably, falling victim to too many twothousandteens conventions of bleak starkness, violence and ugliness that should just as soon be forgotten, stopped and left behind. The cynicism and stark realism that so many modern filmmakers insist on presenting in too many modern-day films is just, in the end, too cynical, too stark, too bleak and far too depressing.

There are so many scenes of ugliness—pure, disgusting, cringe-worthy (not in a good way), gross and look-away ugliness—in “Brothers” that, again, it’s a wonder that anyone saw anything worthwhile in this script and story and characters. For those willing to undergo the torture of watching this film, those incidents of ugliness won’t be revealed, but there is an assurance that the film does include a series of scenes that—again—are nothing but bleak, dark, stark and depressing. And the four main characters and even the supporting characters, are all so consistently annoying, irritating, ignorant, drunken, violent and just generally stupid, it’s a continual wonder why any filmgoer would care about them, be interested in them, or worry for a second about what happens to them.

John C. Reilly, who is also listed in the credits as a co-producer, and Joaquin Phoenix play the Sisters, a pair of brothers who are nothing, and absolutely nothing, but rogue, rebel, renegade criminals, outlaws and murderers. They are on the run from a man who they work for, known as the Commodore, and they trying to capture a wayward prospector who has developed a chemical solution designed to easily find gold in the wild American West of the 1850s. They travel across the vast West, trying to avoid people trying to kill them, trying to find the chemist, and trying to stay alive. But, as noted, it’s hard to care about the Sisters, because just about everything they do is horrible, terrible, awful, despicable. They kill, murder, shoot, get drunk, act stupid, say stupid things, do stupid things, argue, fight and kill and kill again. And their actions, like the movie, are presented in such a stark, dark, violent manner, consistently, the violence just starts to get sickening. Eventually, moviegoers will cease caring about the fate of the Sisters and just hope that one of the legions of people hunting them will get lucky and just kill them, putting the characters—and filmgoers—out of their misery.

The writers and director seem to somehow find new and continual ways to gross out filmgoers in the movie, moving from one awfully unpleasant scenario to another. However, that much-needed, accompanying likeable rogue, likeable anti-hero–similar to the film version of Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Bonnie, Clyde or the Corleones–is never present in the movie. The Sisters brothers are not likeable, not from scene one to the final scene—they’re just, essentially, dumb morons. And two dumb moron killing machines bloodying up the Wild West does not make for an enjoyable time at the movies.

The one small positive factor in “The Sisters Brothers” is the Western scenery—but a palette of beautiful country images do not make a good film. The entire rest of the movie is ugliness, and the filmmakers can’t even find an intelligent, insightful manner to balance the story’s and the character’s inherent inner ugliness with the countryside’s overwhelming natural beauty. That opportunity was there for the entire filming, but, again, the filmmakers failed to capitalize on that basic contradiction, which is a primary element of many of filmdom’s classic Westerns. Instead, the “Brothers” inherent ugliness overwhelms the entire experience of watching the movie.

Leaving the theater after a recent screening of the movie, a patron uttered the cliché, “Now I know why people drink” when exiting the theater. Fortunately, that snarky remark prompted the first smile and moment of levity during the entire “Sisters Brothers” endurance-athon evening.

This last September weekend of 2018, the best movie advice is simple: avoid the brutal criminal monsters of “The Sisters Brothers” and just spend some fun times at the movies with the lovable, good Yeti monsters of “Smallfoot.”


John Hanshaw

John Hanshaw

founded WFI in the Fall of 2007. He has worked in film and television for over ten years at such institutions as NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), PBS and most recently National Geographic. He has degrees from Amherst College, Cambridge University, and GW Law.