Ever since their debut with the feature film Coraline in 2009, Laika Studios has put out consistently strong films well-received by critics and audiences alike. Their newest film, Missing Link, continues the trend with a story about an explorer who helps the legendary beast Sasquatch find his homeland, and the result is another example of Laika doing what they do best, and that’s enthrall audiences with breathtaking stop-motion animation that tells a solid, endearing story for the whole family to enjoy.
When a world-famous explorer answers a letter informing him of the whereabouts of Sasquatch, the result sends him and the legendary monster on an adventurous expedition to find his homeland.
The avenue of stop-motion animation is a road rarely traveled in today’s cinema; while animation mainstay Aardman Animations continues to produce films based in claymation, the other most prominent stop-motion production studio has been Laika since its inception in 2005. Their first feature Coraline came from the mind of stop-motion savant Henry Selick and drew stellar reviews and strong box office success on top of an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature in 2009.
Their reputation has remained in high standing ever since with ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls, both of which grossed over 100 million dollars worldwide, while Kubo and the Two Strings kept the studio’s critical success going despite a meager profit at the global box office. The trend looks to continue with their newest film, Missing Link, which is a film worth bringing the family to this weekend for its clever blend of different senses of humor, strong character arcs and messages, solid voice acting, and Laika’s unique style of animation that grows more and more gorgeous with every film.
Taking place in Victorian-era England, Missing Link follows Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman), an explorer whose gained fame and fortune searching for mythical beasts, discovering them and proving their existence, albeit in a reckless fashion that puts his adventuring partner in danger during an early expedition to find the Loch Ness Monster and snag a photo with it before letting it roam free. His partner soon informs Frost of his resignation, but not before calling him out on caring more about his standing in society than his fellow man. Indeed, Frost longs to become a member of the aristocratic yet close-minded Optimates Club of elitists, and upon receiving a letter from a man dubbed ‘Mr. Link’ informing him of the whereabouts of the legendary being Sasquatch in America, is given an ultimatum by the Optimates Club’s leader, Lord Piggot-Dunceb (Stephen Fry): find proof of Sasquatch, and he will finally be among the most elite members of society.
Frost ventures to the forests in the Pacific Northwest, where he not only discovers the missing link between primate and man in Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis), but also learns that he was Mr. Link all along, and has taught himself to read, write, and speak in a long life of solitude. However, Mr. Link is tired of being alone in the woods, and asked Frost to find him because he wants to return to his homeland in the land of Shangri-La among his yeti cousins. Frost agrees, and journeys to Mr. Link’s homeland, meeting adventurer Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), and foiling the nefarious plans of hitman Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant) along the way.
Like all of Laika’s films before it, the aspect in which Missing Link excels the most is its visuals. A mid-credits behind the scenes time lapse in Kubo And The Two Strings showcased how much effort and attention to detail the animators of Laika put into their work, and they continue to evolve their animation style in Missing Link through a unique blend of stop-motion animation with CGI that results in more fluid character movements that will make audiences question if what they’re watching is practically made or rendered from a computer. Meanwhile, the landscapes of every region of the world are immaculately detailed, from the blades of grass that sway in the winds of the Pacific Northwest, to the snows of Shangri-La, and even the streets of Old England as they bustle with people in multiple points of the frame.
Missing Link also benefits from a clever script rife with a variety of senses of humor; whether it be clever sight gags like when a character’s misfortune is emphasized through a sharp cut to a large wooden crate with the word ‘NUTS’ on it in the next scene, or elements of slapstick, such as a moment in the trio’s travels where Mr. Link shifts so far in his seat, Frost himself goes flying out of his seat and into the skies. Verbal humor comes into play, as well, taking form in funny banter between Frost and Mr. Link; the former’s dignified ambition contrasts very well with the innocent neanderthal of the latter, and their dynamic is amplified by the great chemistry between Jackman and Galifianakis as voice actors. Galifianakis in particular, takes a stellar turn here as a voice actor by portraying Mr. Link with an endearing likability that leaves audiences wanting to see him understand the world and reach his end destination.
All this being said, Missing Link doesn’t offer much in the form of originality. While the concept is fresh, the narrative remains familiar, and drags on for a bit in the second half once the endgame is clear for Frost, Mr. Link and Adelina Fortnight. It’s also worth noting that Adelina herself joins Frost and Mr. Link in their adventures relatively quickly, considering her reasons for despising Sir Lionel upon their first encounter in the film.
But those faults are common amongst films geared for a younger audience, and Missing Link offers something for not only children, but adults as well. Frost goes through a compelling character arc where through finding Mr. Link, he not only finds the missing link between primates and humanity, but he also finds the missing link that connects himself with empathy for other human beings. Adults will connect to that, and find substance in the film’s ideas about wildlife conservation, the similarities between man and animal, the rejection and pursuit of knowledge, and environmentalism, all of which have a nuanced existence in Missing Link without ever feeling too preachy. Children will laugh at the hilarious elements of slapstick and Mr. Link’s innocent obliviousness to societal lingo, while they and adults alike will root for the endearing cast of characters and marvel at the breathtaking animation on display. Missing Link is a film that has something for audiences of all ages to enjoy, and a film that sets a new standard for Laika’s style of stop-motion animation.