Zendaya has made some blockbuster films over the last few years but Smallfoot might be her most subversive.
The latest animated feature film from Warner Bros continues the fairytale tradition of sharing important moral messages trough digestiable stories with children. In this case, the main lesson is the importance of truth but it’s not just about being honest; it delves deeper into political territory that reflects today’s world.
In Smallfoot, a Yeti community lives up in the mountains and away from the rest of the world, oblivious to its existence because they have been conditioned to let their lives be governed by the teachings of ancient stones that are always right.
When one yeti, Migo (Channing Tatum) discovers that a stone about the existence of smallfoot (humans) is wrong, the Stone Keeper (Common) offers alternative facts to ensure the stability of the oppressive society he and his ancestors have created. Sound familiar?
Zendaya plays Meechee, the rebellious daughter of the Stone Keeper, and she tells Yahoo Movies UK that it’s important that children can learn important political and social lessons through films like these.
“There are so many things that you can pull from it,” she tells Yahoo Movies UK. “You can look at the concept of following your heart, what is your inner truth telling you is right? What is the right thing to do, and that moral compass, what’s the right thing to do and how do I follow that?
“Then there’s the idea of not allowing people to decide for you what your future is or who you should be,” Zendaya continues. “I feel like my character, she’s the daughter of the Stone Keeper so [she’s] not supposed to challenge that, or have any questions or really act in any way that would test these stones so what I think is really cool is that she lives in quite the opposite way.”
In real life, Zendaya has become something of a role model herself as she openly discusses politics, feminism, representation and other issues she believes to be important as she navigates the world as a young woman of colour.
However, with that platform there also comes the pressure to ensure the roles she takes are reflective of her beliefs as well as shining a light on those who don’t have the opportunity to speak as widely on issues as she does.
“It’s something that I think about,” she explains. “As far as my platform as a person in the public eye, I always try and use it for good things and I always try to use it as a place of, sometimes it doesn’t just belong to me and give other people the spotlight that is normally on me.
“In this movie, my character, it’s what she tries to do. She’s trying to use her platform, basically royalty, as a way to uncover the truth, open up a lot of doors and be more accepting,” Zendaya adds.
“So I know it’s weird to say you have commonalities with an animated Yeti but she’s really cool and she’s smart. It’s just fun.”
Smart and fun are good descriptors for most of the young actor’s roles having started off on the Disney Channel in Shake it Up and K.C. Undercover before landing the coveted role of MJ in the rebooted Spider-Man franchise opposite Tom Holland.
She also appeared opposite Zac Efron in The Greatest Showman and the pair discussed what Disney movie they’d like to do a live-action version of. Their choice was The Little Mermaid and now there are reports she’s being lined up to play Ariel.
“Well it’s still rumours, so we’ll see,” Zendaya says with a smile. “We’ll see.”
Smallfoot is out on Friday, 12 October