The geniuses at Laika Studios have another winner on their hands with Missing Link, a delightful stop-motion animated feature that’s both fast on its feet and warm in its heart.
Other films in Laika’s catalog like excellent Coraline and similarly great Kubo and the Two Strings tend to deal with darker material and heavier themes but their latest effort proves they have a knack for lighter fare, too. Despite having a storyline that’s perhaps a bit too familiar, the film has plenty of good-natured laughs and laudable voice performances that make it a family-friendly adventure well worth taking.
Hugh Jackman stars as Sir Lionel Frost, a self-aggrandizing but generally well-meaning explorer who desperately wants to join an elite society of adventurers led by Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry). He receives a letter concerning a Sasquatch sighting in the Pacific Northwest and, upon traveling there, he indeed happens upon said creature in the forest and dubs him “Mr. Link” (Zach Galifianakis). We learn that not only does Mr. Link know English but that he is the one who penned the letter to Frost, which he wrote to request help in finding the Yetis, his long-lost relatives from the Himalayas.
At a brisk 87 minutes, Missing Link moves breathlessly from one exotic location to the next, but it does so with a grandeur and panache that’s worthy of its intrepid main character. It’s the kind of swashbuckling adventure film that diagrams the globetrotting of its main characters by drawing a red line on an old-fashioned map for us to follow along.
The action scenes, like a rambunctious bar fight and a stunning boat-bound foot chase that reminded me of the classic hallway sequence in Inception, move with a fluidity that is made more impressive when you remember that each frame of movement was adjusted by hand.
Not only is the film always a visual treat to behold but, thanks to a droll script by writer-director Chris Butler, there are plenty of jokes that cleverly juxtapose the haughty and naive natures of its main characters. Turns of phrase and bits of sarcasm from the “refined” English gentleman are lost on the more innocent-minded bigfoot creature, whose literal interpretation of Frost’s words leads to some of the film’s funniest gags.
Jackman imbues his character with a brand of pomposity that is somehow endearing, but it’s Galifianakis as the earnest and sweet-hearted Mr. Link that gives the most charming performance.
I desperately hope this isn’t the last we see of Laika. Despite all five of their films garnering good to great reviews from critics, their output has not resonated with general audiences. Missing Link’s abysmal $5.8 million debut (finishing ninth in its opening weekend) represents a new financial low point for the studio.
In an animated landscape that keeps feeling more homogenized, their visionary work and the painstaking lengths they go through to create it feel more important than ever.
Here’s hoping that we have more fresh and fun stop-motion adventures like Missing Link to look forward to for years to come. Coming to theaters this weekend
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