"Abominable," unlike many other children's movies featuring Asian characters, doesn't represent Asians as exotic or strange.
On September 27, DreamWorks and Pearl Studios released a new animated film, "Abominable." The film tells the story of a teenage girl who discovers a Yeti and begins a journey with her friends to help the Yeti find its way back home. What caused this film to catch many people's attention is the presence of an Asian protagonist. The main character is Yi, a Chinese teenager who lives in Shanghai.
Although the characters live in China and are not Chinese-American, this film is still a big step in representation for Asian Americans. Asian representation in children's television and film is still sparse, and having an animated film centered on Chinese characters gives many Asian-American children a chance to see characters who look like them.
Chloe Bennet, who voices Yi, said in an interview about the movie, "I just want people to realize that there can be a movie starring a Chinese girl on and off the big screen, set in China, being friends with other Chinese kids and living a normal life like anyone else." She also added, "These are universal people telling universal stories."
"Abominable," unlike many other children's movies featuring Asian characters, doesn't represent Asians as exotic or strange. Its depiction of Chinese characters "living a normal life" is especially important. In many cases, American films and television centered on Asian or Asian-American characters tend to exoticize Asian culture and present the characters and the setting as a sort of fantasy of the "Oriental" or the "other." Many of the Asian characters I loved as a child were represented in a way that aestheticized Asian culture rather than presenting it as something normal or everyday.
For example, as much as I love "Mulan," the movie did seem to present China and Chinese people as exotic, with stylized visuals that seemed to cherry-pick elements of Asian culture for this exotic aesthetic. Another old favorite of mine was "Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior," in which much of the focus was on the main character learning martial arts, perpetuating a common Asian stereotype. "American Dragon: Jake Long" was probably the closest thing I had to seeing Asian Americans presented as normal people (bonus points for actually calling Jake Long "American" in the title though), and even then, the main character, Jake Long, had the ability to transform into a dragon. That's not to say that Asian culture isn't "normal," more that these depictions of Asians tend to present Asian culture, and therefore Asian people, as something exotic and almost a sort of aesthetic. This concept of the exotic only commodifies Asians and their cultures.
Seeing the depiction of the characters in "Abominable" is a breath of fresh air for me, and it's especially encouraging to think about all the Asian-American children who might grow up with this film. I hope that DreamWorks and other animation studios will continue to push diversity in their movies and work to represent children from all backgrounds.