Not unlike Everest’s own odyssey in the film, it took a long, fantastic journey to bring ‘Abominable’ to life.

When she began working on "Abominable," there’s no way that writer and director Jill Culton could have foreseen the incredible path stretching from the film’s inception to its big screen release seven years later. Having honed her skills at both Pixar and Sony Pictures Animation (where she directed her first feature, “Open Season”), Culton started work on the story of a lost and lonely yeti back in 2012, just as DreamWorks Animation was involved in launching a new Chinese production company, Pearl Studio (formerly Oriental DreamWorks).


“Jill was uniquely positioned to tell this story that is so personal to her,” says producer Peilin Chou, Pearl Studio’s Chief Creative Officer. “[S]he always believed she was meant to direct this film. She has such an intensity toward it, that even during changes of leadership — and during a hiatus from the project when she was working on other movies — ‘Abominable’ was still in the back of her mind. We never abandoned the project, and she never abandoned us. There’s this mysticism to her. She knew in her heart of hearts she was meant to bring this film to the screen. And she was right! Jill never gave up on it, and it came true. She’s like Everest. She showed us the way home.”

Initially titled “Everest” after the film’s Yeti star, the story instantly clicked for Culton when he she realized that she already had a personal connection to enormous furry creatures.

"When you have a blank slate like that to play with, you tend to fill it in with what you know and love," she says. “I’ve had huge, 90-pound-plus dogs for most of my life. They are my kids; I’ve had bloodhounds mostly, and they’re sloppy, slobbery and hilarious. I could just see myself connecting through the relationship that Yi has with the Yeti, and I drew the initial sketches of them together. I initially wanted him to be huge, like the kind of dogs I’ve had… When I was five or six, my neighbors had this giant London Great Dane that had to be almost 200 pounds. I was always scared but intrigued; he outweighed me by more than double. One day, my friend Nancy and I were running around the house, and he started chasing us. I jumped off the stairs to avoid him, and I fell. This giant dog pinned me to the ground and was breathing in my face, staring into me. I was terrified but amazed at the same time.”

Using her dogs as her muse, Culton began to focus on the story’s central human protagonist, a young woman from Shanghai who was soon named Yi.

“I wanted Yi and Everest to travel the world to all these beautiful places outside a big city,” Culton continues. “That narrative connected to me. I play guitar and piano and absolutely love music… All the early drawings I started sketching of Yi — where she’s holding the violin completely wrong — were some of the first ones I did. I’d have her doing everything from riding on top of Everest to standing on a rooftop. I just kept drawing her with a violin with the bright lights and glass buildings of the city as she played… such a hard image and romantic at the same time.”

In the story, the violin used to belong to Yi’s father. Although she still lives with a loving mother and grandmother that she lives with, Yi is having a hard time dealing with her father’s death and, instead of opening up about her feelings, tries to keep them repressed and her daily schedule so busy that she doesn’t have time to think about the pain.

“It’s a funny, light-hearted adventure in a way, but ‘Abominable’ has these serious undertones that are important themes — like loss and pain — for people of all ages to deal with,” says Chloe Bennet, who voices Yi. “A lot of people, especially teenagers, are scared to reach out when things are hard. That’s my favorite part of the film, and the one that resonates with me the most — and I hope it does for other girls as well.”

“While I don’t have a personal death like that in my family, when I was a teenager, my dad left the family,” Culton explains. “My parents got a divorce, and it was devastating. I can relate to Yi’s loss on that level… especially how she’s disconnected from her family. When you’re a kid going through a difficult divorce and your parents want to ‘sit down and talk about this…’ you’re like, ‘No! I don’t want to talk about it!’ Nobody does… I certainly was like her when I was younger. She feels like she doesn’t need anyone.”

“Jill is incredible and so talented, warm and wonderful,” Bennet continues. “I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. When you’re making a film like this, she was everything. She was set, hair and makeup, every character—painting the picture for everyone. It speaks so much to her talent as a writer and director that she was able to put everyone in this carpeted room in a place of creativity and comfortability. She allowed us to transport ourselves to these crazy situations in China. She was able to pull these performances out of everybody… This movie is her heart and my heart.”

Although the original storyline centered on just Yi and Everest, a pair of new characters eventually joined the adventure in the form of a self-obsessed teen, Jin, and his overenergetic little cousin, Peng. Voicing the former is Tenzing Norgay Trainor, the Disney Channel star who is actually the grandson of Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa mountaineer who, alongside Sir Edmund Hilary, became the first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953. Voicing Peng, meanwhile, is 15-year old “Trophy Wife” and “Dr. Ken” star Albert Tsai.

“Yi has known Jin since they were kids,” explains Culton, “but they, too, have become disconnected. Jin is into his friends and the way he looks, but he is concerned about Yi and ends up following her on this quest. His little cousin, Peng, comes along as well, and he’s totally into the journey and the fun of finding a kindred spirit in Everest. Each of them changes, and Everest is responsible for those changes as well.”

Although “Abominable” is designed to appeal to audiences of all ages and from every walk of life, it was important for all involved to tell a story that follows Chinese characters

“The power of representation is everything,” says Bennet. “You don’t realize that when you don’t see someone who looks like you on TV, on film or in music, you start to idolize the people who don’t look like you. It becomes this big snowball effect. ‘Those people are successful, and they have blond hair. If they don’t have eyes that look like mine, maybe I’m not good enough because I don’t look like them.’ That’s the power of having someone who looks like you on screen. I really hope that whether people acknowledge it or realize it, it makes a difference to young girls who feel different or left out—whether they’re tomboys or Asians and feel that they’re weird. Because they’re not. They’re really cool. You can be who you are and be a badass at the same time.”

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“Abominable” may be a fantasy adventure, but could there be real Yetis out there?

Returning from having led a several month long reconnaissance expedition that took he and his eight man team across the perilous, uncharted heights of Mount Everest, British Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Howard-Bury published his findings in late 1921. Little did he know that one particularl incident from his long journey would capture imaginations all over the world and cement in modern culture a new cryptozoological marvel: the Abominable Snowman.


Howard-Bury did not claim to have encountered a living Yeti and, in fact, he attributed the sole piece of evidence, an unusually large footprint said to resemble that of a barefooted man, to be doubled over grey wolf tracks. His Sherpa did not agree, however, claiming that the footsteps belonged to a legendary beast, the Metoh-Kangmi. Immediately spotting an interesting angle Henry Newman, a reporter for India’s The Statesman who interviewed Howard-Bury, translated “Kangmi” correctly as “Snowman,” but made a mistake with “Metoh”. Although the word means “man-bear,” Newman translated it as “filthy” and, using a bit of writerly flourish, the “Abominable Snowman” was born.

While Howard-Bury’s expedition cemented the Abominable Snowman’s role in popular culture, legends of a wild man living in the Himalayan mountains traced back throughout recorded history. In 1937, locals told mountaineer Frank Smythe of a creature known as the “Mirka,” a ferocious presence who brought death to anyone who beheld such a beast. The same year, Smythe published photographs of alleged Yeti footprints in the pages of Popular Science.

By the 1950s, Yeti sightings had taken off due, perhaps, to a newfound love for bigger than life stories in the atomic age. The United States government even issued official protocol for would-be Yeti hunters, requesting that, should the creature be spotted, it should only be harmed in self defense and that, if possible, it should be captured alive.

Even Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the first men to fully scale Mount Everest, reported seeing enormous footprints in the snow. Norgay’s legacy is carried in a special way in “Abominable”. His grandson, Tenzing Norgay Trainor, voices one of the story’s main characters, Jin. Hillary, meanwhile, would return to Everest a few years later with the hopes of tracking the elusive Yeti. Unfortunately, his findings would prove inconclusive.

One of the most unusual Yeti stories occurred in 1957 when oil tycoon Tom Slick learned of the “Pangboche Hand,” a mummified artifact alleged by the Nepalese Buddhist monastery that owned it to have belonged to an actual Yeti. According to legend, the beast was discovered in a cave used for meditation long ago. When it died, the hand was recovered and brought to their monastery in Pangboche.  Although he was not permitted to do so, Slick secretly stole parts of the hand in the hopes of having them tested. Bizarrely, Slick is said to have called upon Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart and his wife, Gloria, for assistance in smuggling the hand back to the states!

It took decades, but piece of the Pangboche Hand that Slick had stolen, a finger, finally underwent DNA testing just a few years ago. Having wound up in the archives of London’s Royal College of Surgeons' Hunterian Museum, the finger was studied in late 2011 and it was determined to have belonged to a human being. The full hand, meanwhile, has vanished, stolen from the monastery in the 1990s.

Like its North American cousin, the Sasquatch, the Abominable Snowman is quite likely an invention of the imagination, made all the more tantalizing by the fact that the world can never truly be sure. But even as legend, the notion that the Earth still has some incredible hidden treasures yet to be discovered carries with it great power. The adventure, after all, is not in the knowing, but rather in the finding out. Life without mystery, indeed, is no adventure at all.