Laika’s latest stop-motion journey is grander not only in visual detail, but also in scale and narrative. While previous films, like Coraline, Kubo and the Two Strings, and ParaNorman have focused on the world as seen through the eyes of a child, Missing Link departs from this norm to depict a slightly more mature story featuring grownup characters. The globe-trotting, vibrant adventure draws interesting parallels between its two stars, Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) and Mr. Link (Zach Galifianakis), who in their disparate missions to find a place where they belong, evolve only to discover that what they’ve been seeking isn’t as far beyond their reach as they thought. A delight to the eyes and the heart, Missing Link is an uplifting journey of self-discovery and finding one’s place in the world.
Jackman is pitch-perfect as the voice of Sir Lionel Frost, a confident, somewhat arrogant explorer intent on making a name for himself in a society of great men. The fact that these men have no interest in allowing him entry into their exclusive club plays on our sympathy and has us rooting for him despite his sometimes questionable intentions. Mr. Link, on the other hand, is a humble and lonely mythical creature, tired of life alone in the Pacific Northwest and wanting more than anything to find a home with his distant relatives – the Yeti. Recruiting Sir Lionel and his former flame, Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), to assist him on his quest, the trio travel the world together encountering no shortage of obstacles and life lessons along the way.
In numerous sequences, Mr. Link’s failure to grasp the nuances of the English language (“I’m very literal”) places unfortunate limitations on the humor of the film. His childlike innocence feels more like a comfort zone writer/director Chris Butler wasn’t quite prepared to leave behind in a script aimed toward younger audiences. Yet, in other ways his narrative feels very progressive, such as, in the case of Adelina, whose character proves to be the most evolved. Many of her actions and dialogue when dealing with Sir Lionel will be applauded for their feminist leanings. Also, Mr. Link’s choice of the moniker, Susan, a highlight of the film’s trailer, strikes a chord of gender neutrality other filmmakers in this genre might shy away from. Overall, moments where the comedy falls short are made up for with the sheer brilliance of the feature’s visuals and its uplifting message.
The level of wondrous visual achievements we’ve come to expect from Laika is present times a thousand in Missing Link. Traveling the globe offers them endless opportunities to showcase their exquisite eye for detail, from the remarkable costumes to over sixty locations. Prepare yourself for an explosion of dazzling color. This meticulous craftmanship is an area where Laika continues to excel and surpass even the best of their own work. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to glimpse behind the scenes and I was astounded by the attention to detail that goes into building these whimsical worlds. Seeing the finished product on screen only enhances the obvious heart and soul Laika put into making each feature.
Missing Link is Chris Butler’s stop-motion love letter to live-action adventures like Indiana Jones, and it’s paving the way for even grander undertakings for Laika in the future. From a bar brawl on par with those you’ve seen dozens of times in your favorite Westerns to a battle on the high seas, the stakes are high. And while the heroes may be flawed, they’re learning, evolving, and finding their place. You may not walk away from this particular adventure as attached to the characters as you were in previous Laika pictures, but in every intense moment, you’ll find you're invested in their journey and biting your nails whenever they find themselves in danger.
Look for Missing Link in theaters Friday, April 12th.