Missing Link, 2019.
Written and Directed by Chris Butler.
Featuring the voice talents of Zach Galifianakis, Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, Timothy Olyphant, Matt Lucas, David Walliams, Amrita Acharia, and Ching Valdes-Aran.
Mr. Link recruits explorer Sir Lionel Frost to help find his long-lost relatives in the fabled valley of Shangri-La. Along with adventurer Adelina Fortnight, this trio of explorers travel the world to help their new friend.
It’s not going to stand out right away (obviously), but Missing Link is a rare animated treat in the sense that it features globetrotting around the world. The story begins in Victorian-era London, travels to the wild west where a gunslinger villain picks up the trail of the heroes, then heads to yet another location recruiting a sassy Puerto Rican woman explorer for the protagonists, and ends up in Shambala. Accounting for inspired interpretations of fantastical beings such as a Sasquatch, Yetis, and the Loch Ness Monster, you have a movie that is successfully able to throw out a consistently varied array of cartoon landscapes and generally pleasant visuals.
Missing Link is also the latest project from Laika, particularly writer and director Chris Butler (Paranorman), so naturally, the stop-motion animation looks vibrant and colorful. That’s a given, and while the studio’s films are always technical marvels, viewers will be fixated on the meticulous detail that went into some of the smallest but most eye-catching bits. There’s a quick shot of a revolver sliding across the floor of a boat, reaching the end and falling through an exposed opening all the way into the ocean, and it’s shot with such clarity and focus in regards to keeping the audience aware of the dynamics of the surrounding action going on that it deserves extra notice. The finale especially is tensely crafted not just for an animated movie, but any movie really, further driving home just how ambitious Laika is with going above and beyond regarding utilizing stop-motion animation.
Fortunately, there’s more to Missing Link than stunning imagery, as the narrative takes the tried-and-true animated film formula of finding the place where one belongs and expanding on it with the notion that for as many people that blindly refuse to accept change, there are many capable of evolving their thinking when presented with new information that challenges everything they were brought up to believe. Sure, the trajectory of the story is fairly predictable, but it’s executed with sincerity and laughter throughout.
Meet Sir Lionel Frost, investigator of mythological beasts voiced by Hugh Jackman. He is ridiculed by those he wants acceptance from most (a snobby club led by Stephen Fry’s Lord Piggot-Dunceb) and seeks to carve out a legacy for himself proving the existence of such wonderful creatures. Down on his luck, he receives a hot tip detailing the whereabouts of a Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis, ever so charming playing up the extreme literal-mindedness and fish out of water humor of the hairy fellow yielding hilarious results), only the message has actually come from the Sasquatch himself. He’s lonely and seeks a journeyman to trek all the way across the world with to find the Yetis, where he feels he belongs.
Dubbing him Mr. Link, Lionel and the Sasquatch come to an agreement that he will take them to the Yetis as long as he is given permission to prove the world of his existence, specifically the aforementioned group of snobs. Admittedly, there are some gaps in narrative logic here (Lionel is presented as a very flawed individual, both selfish and caring, so it makes very little sense that he would go on a perilous journey endangering his own life without at least getting what he wants first). Midway through the adventure, they team up with Zoe Saldana’s Adelina Fortnight, the widow of his former partner, who primarily exists to smooth out the edges of his personality notably without ever becoming his romantic partner. Lionel makes advances, but Adelina is more of a character freed from the liberation of a tragedy and seeking thrills for her own personal fulfillment than a regressive trope. Unfortunately, she never transcends anything beyond feeling like an unnecessary third wheel.
Lord Piggot-Dunceb enlists the services of a hunter gunslinger named Stenk (Timothy Olyphant, basically doing his Deadwood voice) which paves the way for a number of action sequences, that as already mentioned are carefully constructed. Sometimes they even get dark in terms of humor, but never bleak enough to endanger the PG rating. Still, some of what is here might surprise some parents. In addition to the well-written jokes (Missing Link probably contains the broadest humor to date from the studio, but makes it work through sharp writing – “crack a window”), it’s these scenes and the locations that keep up the momentum even if most people probably already know the resolution to the story. Although, there is one area where the narrative briefly gets a bit stagnant and could have used a few minutes of trimming.
Missing Link may lack the emotional heft of many other outstanding works from Laika, but for the most part, it breezes along and maintains excitement. It’s also always good whenever an animated film finds a way to expand on tropes of the genre. If nothing else, the stop-motion animation is certainly a work of art to behold, but rest assured there is much more than pretty visuals to this craftsmanship. In particular, Zach Galifianakis has a warmness to his clueless nature that makes his performance stand out and a no-brainer to cast in more animated flicks. The humor largely rests on him and he delivers without missing a link.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com