We don’t deserve Laika. Even after increasingly subpar box office grosses, the studio has continued to almost single-handedly preserve the wonderous art of stop-motion animation with imaginative stories and unmatched moving model work. Their newest film, Missing Link, is no exception in all its charming, old-fashioned goodness.
A tip-top Hugh Jackman stars as Sir Lionel Frost, a sophisticated surveyor of exotic mythical creatures hidden from the world of man. Denied access yet again from an elite club of posh explorers, Frost picks up on a lead to the sasquatch to find proof and prove his worth to the group. Frost finds the ape-man with little effort in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, but he quickly learns that it was actually the elusive missing link between man and ape that found him.
Zach Galifianakis’ pitch-perfect voicework erupts from the bigfoot, a gentle, well-spoken creature that quickly wins over Frost’s and, more than likely, the audience’s affection. Mr. Link, as Frost calls him, wants the adventurer’s help to find his cousins, the Yeti, in the Himalayan Mountains, and after shaking for a deal that’ll get Frost the recognition he craves and the sasquatch the family he desires more than anything, the two head out on a globe-trekking adventure to find the lost city of Shangri-La.
Like the rest of Laika’s work, one of the best things about Missing Link is that it doesn’t condescend towards a younger audience with cheap slapstick or dumb humor. Writer/director Chris Butler carries the film with a lively energy that, while plenty good for all ages, is actually decidedly more appreciable for adults. There’s a refined zeal to the characters’ movements and dialogue that makes the most of its subtler style, one which Butler milks in every scene with smart, simply delightful direction.
That’s not to say there aren’t any fun gags, either. As the briskly paced narrative winds its way from Darwinian England to the rural outskirts of the American Pacific Northwest, the desert Southwest, and on through the forests and chilly mountains of Asia, bar fights, shootouts (again, the film refreshingly doesn’t sanitize these adventurous elements), and wacky heists provide all sorts of fun moments alongside Butler’s witty dialogue and writing. Though it’s not nearly as showy as the crazy animation work going into Kubo and the Two Strings, Missing Link wouldn’t be the same if its majestic locations and stylized throwback character designs were rendered in CGI.
A somewhat rushed ending and character arc for Frost almost halt some of the enjoyable momentum the film builds up to its closing moments, and Zoe Saldana’s character, Adelina, while good, isn’t as totally effervescent as Jackman and Galifianakis’ buddy-cop duo (probably the best of Laika’s five independent films), but everything comes together as a wonderful package in the end.
Whatever isn’t utter perfection in Missing Link is still great and leaps ahead of most modern family films. If Laika can capitalize on its tease at a potential series of sequels, there’s a lot more to look forward in the future from Sir Lionel Frost, Adelina, and Mr. Link.