Continuing to perfect the photorealistic landscapes they have brought to their other features thus far, Laika’s unique streak of stop-motion animated story-telling reaches its most accessible peak with Missing Link. As conventional as Chris Butler’s adventure tale is though – the filmmaker helming Laika’s spooky offering ParaNorman, as well as earning story credit for both Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings – the animation on hand continues to defy industry standard, with Missing Link‘s pallet appearing effortless in its design.
The story on hand may be familiar, but Butler has assured his film still feels fresh, maintaining the unique reputation of a studio who have excelled in detailing the unexpected. There’s a playfulness and an emotional intellect that underlies Missing Link‘s plot-line, one that focuses on English explorer Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by a wonderfully proper sounding Hugh Jackman). Making a habit of placing himself (or, more correctly, his associates) in specific danger in the grand name of uncovering the globe’s most sought-after creatures (the film opens with him attempting to prove the existence of the Loch-ness Monster), Frost appears to be doing so for the cause of being accepted by a society of prestigious explorers (headed by Stephen Fry’s Lord Piggot-Dunceb) who hold particular distain for him.
Believing he has found proof that a Bigfoot of sorts exists, Frost makes a wager that if he uncovers the creature he’ll be readily accepted into Piggot-Dunceb’s league. It’s all of course easier said that done as Piggot-Dunceb sends out astute assassin Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant) to halt any of Frost’s activities, and when the creature turns out to be a walking, talking, adept at penmanship sasquatch dubbed Mr Link (Zach Galifianakis, particularly endearing), whose only wish is to be transported to the Himalayas in the hope of being united with his cousin tribe, the Yetis, the journey at hand derails considerably in its smoothness; Zoe Saldana also joins the adventure as a former acquaintance of Frost, a fiery free-spirit named Adelina Fortnight.
A dashing tale that could easily be reshuffled for any major studio to a live-action adventure, Missing Link is typically on brand for the off-kilter Laika, a company who manage to produce their most mainstream title to date with a feature that’s still wildly unique. The promotional material may aim this at young children but the satirical edge the film uncovers throughout, the refreshing lack of pop culture references that could easily date its content, the sheer intricacies of its constructed set-pieces (one Inception-like action sequence aboard a boat navigating stormy waters is a marvel), and its sporadic bursts of violence (Stenk’s wielding of an axe displays an unexpected ferocity) equate to a production that, similar to Laika’s previous titles, is far more in-tune with an older audience who can both appreciate and understand the content at hand.
That’s not to say however that Missing Link can’t be appreciated by the family circuit as its message of the power of friendship and respecting others of different races is suitably present without being shoved down our respective throats. However unoriginal its message may be, it doesn’t deter the film from being any less sincere. With the studio continuing to evolve in their manner of arresting visuals, so too does their outlook on storytelling and riding home the importance of one’s own self-identification, something that is proven in the most beautifully understated fashion when Mr Link chooses his own name, a moniker that refuses to be confined by gender normalities. An animated film embracing forward-thinking identity politics? Now that’s evolution!
About Missing Link
Meet Mr. Link: 8 feet tall, 630 lbs, and covered in fur, but don’t let his appearance fool you… he is funny, sweet, and adorably literal, making him the world’s most lovable legend. Tired of living a solitary life in the Pacific Northwest, Mr. Link recruits fearless explorer Sir Lionel Frost to guide him on a journey to find his long-lost relatives in the fabled valley of Shangri-La. Along with adventurer Adelina Fortnight, our fearless trio of explorers encounter more than their fair share of peril as they travel to the far reaches of the world to help their new friend.
Missing Link (PG) is screening in Australian theatres these school holidays. QLD and Victoria from April 8th 2019, with other states to follow on April 11th 2019.