Best known for her leading role as Daisy Johnson (aka Quake) on Marvel’s _Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D._, Chinese-American actress Chloe Bennet lends her voice to Yi, the headstrong teenage girl who befriends a Yeti, in DreamWorks Animation and Pearl Studio’s Abominable.
When teenage Yi encounters a young Yeti on the roof of her apartment building in Shanghai, she and her mischievous friends, Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) and Peng (Albert Tsai), name him “Everest” and embark on an epic quest to reunite the magical creature with his family at the highest point on Earth.
As the journey of their lifetimes becomes a flat-out race to the finish, Everest will help Yi, Jin and Peng unlock an inner bravery they didn’t know they had and—as they strive to return the mystical creature to the place where he belongs—Everest will help them discover where they truly belong, too.
For Bennet, the role of Yi had unexpected echoes with her own life. “My agents called me and told me that DreamWorks and Pearl were doing this new film, and the character is a young Chinese girl who lives with her grandmother in China as a teenager,” the actress says. “I also lived with my grandmother in China as a teenager. I thought, ‘Well, that’s a weird coincidence.’ When I went in and talked with them and learned about the person Yi is, and how strong-willed she is, her journey resonated so deeply with me. It paralleled my life. I left that meeting and said, ‘If I don’t get this movie, I’m horrible at my job. That is me.’ It felt almost too good to be true.”
The coincidences between Bennet’s life and Yi’s didn’t stop there. “It’s all been a very destined process,” she says. “I grew up with brothers in the city of Chicago, and they’re similar to other characters in the film. I was so very similar to Yi, doing odd jobs like mobile lemonade stands and dog walking. I always felt like an outcast because I wasn’t a girly girl and didn’t know how to interact well outside of my own big family. I felt surrounded but isolated in a way that anyone who feels differently, especially teenagers, can feel.”
The actress appreciated that director-writer Jill Culton infused “Abominable” with surprising emotional weight, and she hopes that a character like Yi will become a touchstone for a generation of girls. “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,” Bennet says. “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.”
For Bennet, Yi is an important, vital step in expanding the representation of Asian people, and Asian girls in particular, in popular culture. “Maybe this character came to me as a nice gift for not having her as a 10-year-old,” Bennet says. “It did just as much for me as a 25- to 27-year-old in the process of making it. The power of representation is everything. 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.”
In Philippine cinemas, October 2, “Abominable” is distributed in the Philippines by United International Pictures through Columbia Pictures. Use the hashtag #ABOMINABLEMOVIE