Every studio should be allowed a dud now and then. Trouble is: money is involved, and those holding the purse strings rarely have patience when a flop falls into their hands.
Laika, the stop-motion animation studio known for Coraline (2009), ParaNorman (2012), The Boxtrolls (2014), and Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), has walked a similar path Pixar did before being acquired by Disney: budgets are kept to a minimum, the animation is spectacular, and the wow factor is essential. Thanks to these strictures, Lakia painstakingly produced four stop-motion animated films, each one accessible for children while being entertaining for adults and advancing the stop-motion form. In a marketplace crowded by insipid, less-than-stellar computer-generated animation, Lakia gives audiences a choice.
But the core of Laika’s four films does not revolve around what can be done with stop-motion animation, but how stop-motion animation can bring a story to life. Laika’s fifth movie in ten years, Missing Link, fails to adhere to this formula and joins the cadre of movies full of pretty pictures and rote storytelling.
Written and directed by Chris Butler (who wrote and directed ParaNorman), Missing Link centers on Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman), an English adventurer who desperately feels he ought to be in the high society of adventurers—a repugnant group of men few would want to share a drink with, let along hang out. To do so, Frost sets out to Washington in search of the legendary Sasquatch. There he finds said Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis), who speaks perfect English—though he has difficulties with figurative speech—and turns out to be the last of his kind.
Thanks to a little baiting, Frost agrees to help the Sasquatch—which he names Mr. Link; Mr. Link, on the other hand, prefers Susan—across the globe to the mythical city of Shangri-La, where Susan hopes to meet his yeti cousins.
First, they need a map Frost’s old partner made, which is how Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana) joins their party. And there’s a goon (Timothy Olyphant), hired to follow and kill Frost, Susan, and Fortnight. The trio manages to get to Shangri-La, but there they encounter a bit of cliquishness, a showdown with the adventurer society, and an ending that is as surprising as cake on your birthday.
Story-wise, Missing Link is enjoyable for kids who haven’t been beaten to death by the same old, same old, but for everyone else, there’s a predictability—not to mention dullness—to each scene. The vocal performances are fine; Jackman, in particular, gives it his all while Galifianakis digs into the Amelia Bedelia aspects of Susan. The animation is pretty to look at, but even that lacks tangibility.
Missing Link is Lakia’s sleekest looking movie by far, and it might be too much of a good thing. There’s a plastic quality to the characters’ face and hair, which hews it closer to contemporary computer animation than it does the herky-jerky days of Ray Harryhausen. A pity, homogeneity only benefits the few.
Missing Link (2019)
Written and directed by Chris Butler
Produced by Travis Knight, Arianne Sutner
Voice performances by Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, Zoe Saldana, Timothy Olyphant, Emma Thompson
Annapurna Pictures, Rated PG, Running time 95 minutes, Opens April 12, 2019