MISSING LINK ½
PG, 95 mins.
2019, PG, 95 mins.
Zach Galifianakis as Mr. Susan Link (voice) / Hugh Jackman as Sir Lionel Frost (voice) / Zoe Saldana as Adelina Fortnight (voice) / Stephen Fry as Lord Piggot Dunceby (voice) / Emma Thompson as The Elder (voice) / Timothy Olyphant as Willard Stenk (voice) / Matt Lucas as Mr. Collick (voice) / David Walliams as Mr. Lemuel Lint (voice) / Amrita Acharia as Ama Lhamu (voice)
Written and directed by Chris Butler
The unendingly delightful and beautifully rendered MISSING LINK is the latest stop motion animated effort from Laika, the Oregon based studio that previously made one of the best films of its kind in 2016's KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (which, incidentally, made my list of the Ten Best Films of its year).
effort could not be anymore different in MISSING LINK, which is more of a
screwball period buddy comedy about an intrepid explorer and his
friendship with...Bigfoot (yes, that one).
It's abundantly clear very early on that Laika is attempting to
make more of a wacky comedy of spirited hijinks in the same manner as,
say, Aardman, which is not bad, per se, but may turn off some of the
former studio's most avid supporters.
Nevertheless, MISSING LINK emerges as yet another tour de force and
visually extraordinary triumph for Laika, and even though it doesn't match
the high artistry of KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS, this latest stop motion endeavor
mixes stunning imagery, flawless animation, and a cheeky irreverence with
a rousing confidence.
The central story
introduces us to the aforementioned explorer in Sir Lionel Frost (voiced
with snarky panache by Hugh Jackman), who has spent a lifetime in the
pursuit of discovering tangible evidence of mythical creatures.
The opening sequence in MISSING LINK is sensational as it shows
Frost and his colleague attempting to photograph the Loch Ness Monster,
and it's a brilliantly orchestrated sequence that shows director Chris
Butler's (PARANORMAN) ability to give this film a sense of awe inspiring
scale and scope despite its simple, painstaking craft.
Frost has been trying to impress the members of a local exploration
society for quite some time, which is headed up by Lord Piggot Dunceby
(Stephen Fry), but getting into his and the society's good graces has
frustratingly eluded him for years.
Things change for
the down on his luck Frost when he receives a letter from an unknown
writer that promises him the existence and location of the Bigfoot, which
prompts him to pack up his bags and head to America.
When he does reach the U.S. and makes contact with the 8 foot tall
Sasquatch, he's astounded to discover that it's not only highly
intelligent, but is extremely well spoken.
Plus - gasp! - Bigfoot himself is the secret writer of the
letter that inspired Frost's cross country trek in the first place.
Going by the name Mr. Link (Zach Galifianakis), he pleads with
Frost to assist him with finding more of his displaced kind in the form of
Yetis in Shangri-La. This leads to yet another long distance trip
for Frost, but this time he has Mr. Link in tow as well as his
ex-girlfriend, Adelina (Zoe Saldana), who offers some much needed
geographical assistance to the whole expedition.
Regretfully, the duplicitous minded and self-serving Lord
Piggot-Dunceby can't bare the thought of Frost attaining any level of
notoriety in their shared field, so he sends in a low level and
gun-touting enforcer (Timothy Olyphant) hot on Frost's tail to take him
and Mr. Link out.
predictably, MISSING LINK is a joyously rich and textured animated effort
from Laika, and the film is positively dripping with a minute attention to
detail that allows for such hypnotizing levels of audience immersion. I like how the characters are indeed giving largely
exaggerated and cartoony forms, but they still manage to move in a fluid
and authentic manner that gives them a sense of tactile reality.
Butler also has a field day with the film's ambitious natural
locations, and MISSING LINK is, at its heart, an old fashioned globe
trotting adventure yarn in the same manner of an INDIANA JONES picture.
Despite that fact that the character, set designs and the various
locations presented throughout don't technically look real, everything in
the film feels inhabited and lived in.
Much like KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS, MISSING LINK has a stark
simplicity and economy of conception that breathes with a startlingly
authentic nuance in every frame.
that populate the film are wonderfully realized as well, in particular
Jackman's Frost, who is a rare mature and adult protagonist for a Laika feature
film that's sort of easy to root for even with his sometimes snobby and
aristocratic snarkiness. MISSING LINK belongs, of course, to Mr. Link himself, who is
an utterly compelling and colorful creation that has a sort of vulnerably
neurotic vibe of a Woody Allen; his bumbling social awkwardness is a nice
foil to the fact that he's exceptionally smart, at least as far as
Sasquatches go. There's a sly
subplot and recurring gag in the film about Mr. Link's hyper literalness
(he takes advice and instructions, for example, exactly as
mentioned without fail, sometimes at the most inopportune times), but
there's humor to be had at the expense of him changing his name to the
more gender specific "Susan" later in the narrative, an
interesting choice considering that he's never explicitly revealed to be
either a boy or girl. There's
a subtle and nice message here speaking to the idea that assigning labels
to a misunderstood fringe creature is petty and unnecessary.
The film really
starts to gain intriguing layers when Frost, Mr. Link, and Adelina reach
the grand and secluded Yetis lands and are dealt with the nagging and
demoralizing notion that they just may not really want to have anything to
do with Mr. Link. MISSING
LINK also builds to individual set pieces of surprising levels of suspense
alongside its frequent tongue in cheek comedic tone (and unlike so many
other family friendly animated films, this one is not afraid to put
characters in frightening predicaments that threaten their lives). This is all building to one aspect that made me enjoy and
appreciate MISSING LINK so much: Butler's film isn't chaotically and
distractingly noisy like so many other kid-centric animated films that favor
chaos and action over character development and atmosphere. It's also not trying to be an aggressive minded pop culture
infused comedy replete with in-jokes that feel incongruent with the film's
19th Century settings. As a
matter of fact, MISSING LINK takes its period setting seriously and
invests in the budding friendship of Frost and Mr. Link and how their
mutual acceptance of the other leads to positive change in their
respective understanding of those once deemed different.
Not all of the
comedy in MISSING LINK works (for every joke that works there are several
others that don't) and there's something to be said about Laika maybe
going against the grain of the types of animated films they've specialized
in before in their own unique ways (I think they're aiming for the same
level of inviting whimsicality of a WALLACE
AND GROMIT, which is awfully hard to replicate).
Still, MISSING LINK is such a visually delightful (and oftentimes
breathtaking) stop motion animated film that you're willing to turn a
blind eye to some of its faults. And
the film also matches its superb artistic virtues
with a story that has a genuine heart and soul that's reflected in
sharply written characters and a very game and finely tuned voice cast.
I find Laika films to be a pleasant and welcoming antidote to the
somewhat soft pedaled safe zones that Disney and Pixar usually traverse
through; they're still great family films, to be sure, but they have a bit
more of an sophisticated edge that allow for them to stand out in a very