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Review: Missing Link

by Chris Feil

Laika is back with another idiosyncratic stop-motion wonder and its their most chipper effort yet. Missing Link follows the animation house’s unique imagination down a rabbit hole of globe-trotting legend, delivering a buddy comedy that’s also about self-love and self-respect. As ever, Laika serves us such spectacular visuals and winning charm that it’s easy to overlook what is more familiar in the film. But this one finds the studio at their most unfettered, giving us a breezy treat that rings of a new level of confidence.

Hugh Jackman leads a surprisingly delightful voice cast as a seeker of rare creatures named Sir Lionel Frost. Attempting to join an elite society of beast hunters that mocks him, he sets off to America in search of Big Foot. What he finds is the gentile apeman Mr. Link, who in turn enlists Frost to guide him to the other side of the globe in search of  a storied tribe of yetis that could be Link’s closest biological kinfolk. With those uppercrust poachers pursuing them to usurp Frost’s discovery, Frost and Link are joined by the widowed Adelina Fortnight, and the three set off on a self-actualization journey into the unknown.

Missing Link arrives as Laika’s smoothest amalgam of genres, effortlessly blending haughty farce, adventure romp, and upbeat creature feature. From ParaNorman's Chris Butler, this one surpasses ParaNorman's inventiveness and finds Butler with a firmer narrative grasp. Many of its beats may come as we expect, but its affability is so finely pitched to scarcely make that a problem. Where the film surprises is its wide ranging stylistic ambitions and the sheer velocity of its non-stop wit. It’s the most casual a Laika film has felt, the least anxious to wow us despite how regularly it does. Each of its passages feel like extended set pieces with all of the formal beauty that’s on display.

Some of this lightness should be credited to the voice cast, with Jackman providing something of a parody of the kind of stuffy nincompoops he’s played in other period pieces. As Mr. Link, Zach Galifianakis sheds much of his more regular irksome affectations for a character who is unrepentantly sweet but never cloying - and without making this simpleton the butt of the joke. Zoe Saldana’s Adelina is a variation on her signature badass heroines, here with an even sharper sense of humor and lower patience for insufficient men. Such animated films often feel like their starry voice casts all exist on separate islands but these three have a surprising chemistry, and feel fresh despite playing familiar roles. Another third act key vocal player is too hilarious a reveal to spoil.

But also at the center of Missing Link’s story is a story about equality in community and of scientific and personal evolution. Link and Frost’s plight becomes one against exceptionalism and exclusion, with the group Frost is trying to join representing an anti-science white male establishment. As gorgeously rendered as the film’s world tour of locations reveal themselves, its thematic textures feel thoughtfully realized as well. In making perhaps their lightest fare, Laika has also made one of their mightiest films.

Grade: B

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Reader Comments (3)

Ooh. So it's as unspectacularly pleasant as the trailers implied. We can agree this isn't winning, though, right? That I was at least right that How to Train Your Dragon 3 is THE frontrunner?

April 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I loved this and I'd be happy to see it win (but i haven't seen HTTYD3 yet. I liked this a bit more than Chris though he makes a great point about how effortless it feels.

April 12, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I think the trailers did this film a bit of a disservice. There's so much happening here that they probably should have leaned less heavily into story and more the visuals, the characterizations. Here's my own little write-up I posted on Facebook for friends who don't seem to know that this movie exists:

There’s an irony to the title because MISSING LINK has just about everything. It’s a grand adventure with plenty of heart and no shortage of laughs, but what makes this an absolute must-see in theaters - where it’s now playing - is the impeccable artistry behind everything from the resplendent establishing shots to the stunningly detailed closeups that prove this animation studio doesn’t even yet know what the plateau looks like. If you don’t know their name, it’s Laika. They’re also responsible for Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and Kubo and the Two Strings. MISSING LINK puts them at five-for-five. Be sure to catch this hilarious farce of a stop-motion picture while you can. He’s an illusive one, that Sasquatch.

***1/2 (out of 4)

If I were to give it a letter grade, it'd be a cool B+ or maybe even A- if I thought too long on the overhead shots of the ship, stagecoach, and train.

April 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDevin D

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