I love animation. Some people prefer hand-drawn animation, some studios believe the general audience prefers CG animation, and to others still, it’s all just “cartoons.” Regardless, animation is a passion of mine and has produced some of my favorite films. Stop-motion animation is under-utilized and under-appreciated, and The Nightmare Before Christmas is likely the only stop-motion animated film a lot of people have seen. So whenever one comes out, I get a little excited. Laika has quickly become one of my favorite animation studios, not only because they’re essentially keeping the art form alive at the moment, but because every aspect of their craft displays technical mastery and a love for cinema. When Coraline first came out, I actually didn’t like it much because my little sister watched it all the time. However, when I rewatched it on my own, I couldn’t help being sucked in by the unique visuals and interesting characters. I liked ParaNorman even more, and Kubo and the Two Strings was one of my favorite movies of 2016. Even The Boxtrolls, which is easily their weakest film, is enjoyably quirky. Needless to say, when Missing Link was announced, I was seeing it no matter what. The trailers and even the concept itself didn’t do much for me, but I’ve learned not to trust movie trailers. Let’s see how the film shapes up.
Missing Link follows adventurer Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) on the adventure of a lifetime. The film begins with Lionel attempting to capture photographic evidence of the Loch Ness Monster, a disaster that loses him his valet. This leaves Frost alone and in need of a new discovery to get him into a prestigious club for great and important men. This opportunity comes in the form of a letter describing a Sasquatch that Frost can find in Washington state. The creature (Zach Galifianakis) is surprising in a number of ways, not the least of which is his ability to speak English and the fact that he wrote the letter himself. Mr. Link, as Lionel calls him, asks for help getting to the Himalayas, where he believes exists a tribe of yetis, his “cousins.” The two are off on the quest, Lionel agreeing to go in exchange for hair and other “proof” of Link’s existence. They’re soon joined by Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), a former lover of Lionel’s and a force to be reckoned with in her own right.
There’s a lot to love about Missing Link. The voice cast is spectacular, and as the lead, Hugh Jackman brings a lot of charisma and energy to Sir Lionel Frost. I won’t give too much of the story away, but Lionel is exactly my favorite kind of lead character. He develops slowly throughout the film in a subtle, effective manner. His flaws and arc are commonly used, especially with male heroes, but, again without saying too much, this is probably my favorite type of hero’s journey. Galifianakis as Link is the film’s heart and soul, and he brings a lot of vulnerability to the character. His loneliness and desire to join his kind are so great that he risks his life in writing to an explorer who he must know is likely to kill him for glory. He’s lovably naive in the way he looks at the world and the people he meets, at first serving as a foil to Sir Lionel, but their character arcs converge later in the film. Even Adelina has a satisfying journey in the movie, although hers is less pronounced than Lionel’s and Link’s. I’ve loved Zoe Saldana as Gamora in the Marvel movies, and she’s no stranger to voice work, having voiced Maria in 2014’s Book of Life. I love the accent she uses for Adelina, and she’s funny and likably encouraging throughout the film. Missing Link features a group of villains, and while they’re voiced by actors I like (Timothy Olyphant, Stephen Fry, Matt Lucas, etc.), they are a weak spot in the movie. Similarly to the How to Train Your Dragon movies, I’m willing to cut Missing Link some slack here because I appreciate how complex and well developed its leads are. Nonetheless, one or two interesting villains could have spiced things up even more. There are hints of this with Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry) at first, but he soon becomes a typical, boring, angry bad guy. Emma Thompson shows up, and she’s really good too, and funny.
It almost goes without saying that Missing Link has a unique visual style, but I’m saying it anyway. Of course, I appreciate the use of stop-motion animation, but the film also sports creative character designs, visually arresting shot composition, and a palette bursting with bright colors. The gentleman’s club Lionel wishes to join is washed out, dimly lit, and visually dull all around, while the various locales he explores with his companions are brimming with life, color, and visual wonder. Some of Missing Link’s best scenes, both in terms of visuals and story, come when the three heroes slow down and have time to talk. Although Missing Link was advertised as a hilarious comedy, I’ll spare you the suspense: like Laika’s other films thus far, Missing Link is actually a quirky character piece that happens to have some funny moments and quippy lines. The dialogue is clever, and at times introspective, although to be fair there are a couple of lines that I thought were a tad too obvious. I also think it’s worthy of note that Missing Link isn’t as child-friendly as the ads would have you believe. It’s not that it’s inappropriate for children, but kids wouldn’t appreciate some of the jokes, and I could imagine them being bored or confused at certain parts. For me, these are actually bonuses to the film’s credit, as I don’t enjoy it when movies, especially animated or family-oriented ones, talk down to kids and spoonfeed them obvious morals and poop jokes. However, I think that this represents a disconnect between the filmmakers and the marketing team. This same kind of thing frequently pops up with trailers for Disney animated films. The musical score by Carter Burwell is rousing, beautiful, and at times even gives Missing Link an epic feel. The ending surprised me in a number of ways; several plot threads and character arcs didn’t go exactly the way I expected. However, I found this refreshing rather than disappointing, and everything still makes sense and feels consistent in the end.
Missing Link is every bit as enjoyable as I’d hoped it would be in spite of the trailers. I will say that my showing was rather empty; aside from myself and my husband, only two other people came to see the film, and I think it’s a real shame. This is a heartfelt, funny, interesting movie with a good message that isn’t shoved down your throat. If you have a few extra dollars and a free afternoon, I would wholeheartedly recommend Missing Link.