Monster investigator, Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman), has an equally hard time finding rare beasts and respect from London’s adventurers club leader, Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry). When a letter requests his presence concerning the elusive Sasquatch, he travels to northwest America only to find the creature itself, Mr. Link (Zach Galifanakis), wrote the letter. It can also talk, play chess, and sometimes take metaphors too literally. Being the last of its kind, it wants to travel to Shangri-La to live out the rest of its days with its cousin, the yeti. Frost agrees to transport Mr. Link for the price of the hairy animal’s physical evidence. That is, if they can acquire a map from Frost’s old flame, Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana) to the lost paradise.
While not having as much under their belt compared to Aardman, Laika has become the Pixar of stop-motion, revolutionizing frame-by-frame techniques on a grand scale. Their stories also break away from the usual branded, sugar high insanity that’s become the norm for american computer animation. This however is a departure from their usual plots involving children thrust into a harsh world, and it works both in favor and against the final product. Easily the best part is the animation. Whether watching the whole feature or behind the scenes footage, there’s never a moment where you’re not asking yourself “How did they do that?!” Scenes combining digital graphics with the life-like puppets feel ripped from another dimension instead of the medium that can make anything possible. There’s also a variety of locations to spice up the road trip, and it really makes the action set-pieces all the more intense when bullets fly and bar fights breakout. London is very pristine, northwest America is dusty and muddy, the briny blue ocean falls at the mercy of mother nature’s unpredictability, and the breezy snowy mountains are a challenge to any creature wanting to see Shangri-La. This easily rivals the realism that computer animation strives to achieve in both movies and video games.
The story is a very quaint and subdued take on the buddy comedy than a giant epic coming off of Laika’s other projects, but it’s certainly a step up from other studios. Jackman and Galifanakis have a very off-beat chemistry thanks to some refreshing running gags that never wear out their welcome. There’s not a single pop culture reference in this period piece, thank goodness, and the creature itself is the main attraction. He may not look like much, but his social awkwardness spawned from isolation really makes for the best jokes, and he’s the most likable character in a world where there’s not a lot of people like him personality wise. However the one major flaw is the lack of change in the main character, Sir Lionel Frost. There’s a lot of moments where they bond and get to know each other, but it hardly amounts to him becoming a new person by his own actions once things wrap up. The villains are a bit of a waste as well, save the hired thug (Timothy Olyphant) who’s always a sight to behold with the gruesome bear scar on his head, and it’s hard to say whether they should’ve been cut to focus more on the leads. They certainly have the other best moments when things don’t go their way, but they’re not gonna replace Ben Kingsley’s Snatcher anytime soon. Ironically this might be geared more toward adults than children with its love letter to Laurel and Hardy’s glory days of dry wit and ever-changing physical comedy.
Animation-wise it’s so beautiful, that one could easily give up their mortal body if there was a chance to be re-animated into a more stylized being. Story-wise Missing Link is a fun road-trip. There’s a lot of running gags that surprisingly never wear out, the main creature is very interesting in his personality and a lot of set pieces really elevate the possibilities of what can be achieved to serve both the plot and the animation. The only thing it lacks is the extra ace up its sleeve when comparing to the likes of Coraline and Paranorman. I’ll even go so far as to say that Boxtrolls . Aside from that, I strongly urge animation fans and general movie goers to see this in theaters for one other reason. As talented as Laika is at crafting these masterpieces, their diminishing box-office results put the future of both the studio and the art form in jeopardy unless there’s an audience for it. The end credits always emphasize what the animators go though to convince people that something is alive. Should they go out of business, the United States would permanently become the only country to shun animation that’s not made on computers, which is very biased compared to the rest of the world. At least see it as an apology for skipping out on Kubo and the Two Strings rather than giving into the curiousity surrounding the polarizing reception around the new Hellboy. Money makes the world go round and if this studio doesn’t see any returns, this could most likely be their last when things go belly up.