Directed by: Chris Butler
Starring: Zach Galifianakis, Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, Timothy Olyphant, Matt Lucas
Mr. Link (Galifianakis) recruits explorer Sir Lionel Frost (Jackman) to help find his long-lost relatives in the fabled valley of Shangri-La. Along with adventurer Adelina Fortnight (Saldana), this trio of explorers travel the world to help their new friend. (Source: IMDb)
Laika’s animated output has been small but also arguably without fault, and in the competitive world of animated features, this is certainly admirable. Their gorgeous stop-motion style certainly puts them a cut above the rest, but with each film there is always the inevitable question of whether this will be the one to blemish their otherwise flawless output.
Their previous film, Kubo and the Two Strings was one of my favourite films of 2016 and is also one that I revisit frequently. Whilst it was the notions of grief, family, and storytelling that particularly stood out for me in Kubo, there was also a pretty great adventure story in there as well that left me wishing Laika would perhaps revisit that aspect.
Along comes Missing Link which is a rip-roaring, slightly retro adventure film with explorers, quests, mythical creatures and moustache twirling villainy. The story opens with Sir Lionel Frost trying to pick up the pieces of his failed Loch Ness Monster expedition and desperately trying to impress the auspicious Optimate’s Club headed up by the wonderfully named Lord Piggot-Dunceby (voiced by national treasure Stephen Fry). After receiving an anonymous tip-off about Sasquatch sightings in America, Lionel embarks on his next quest to find the so-called “missing link” in man’s evolution.
Zach Galifianakis plays the loveable “Link”, a creature of impressive stature who also has highly developed speech and opposable thumbs, something Lionel was not expecting when he set out on his journey. After finding out that Link wants to journey to the distant Himalayan mountains to find his long-lost family, the two become unlikely friends and embark on a globe-trotting adventure together.
In many ways, Missing Link reminded me of Aardman’s zany The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! – an underrated animated offering from the stop motion heavyweights. Whilst Laika’s offering has slightly more emotional resonance and heart, both have that distinctly British feel to them, with perfectly pitched humour and a lovely nostalgic atmosphere as well.
In a world of big, bold and brash animated offerings – of variable quality – the craftsmanship of Laika is always admirable. Their films feel tactile and crafted with love. The characters are painstakingly manipulated and the lush landscapes – whether models or computer animated – always provide a visual feast for the eyes.
Missing Link‘s story has a lovely simplicity to it, but it is a formula which works, and alongside the fantastic cast, it proves to be yet another hit for the animation studios.
I saw this movie and you should too. The craftsmanship that goes into making stop motion films is incredible and is always something that takes my breath away. Whilst it is easy to swept up in the rollicking adventure yarn of Missing Link, it is also a film that is as visually pleasing as it is enjoyable. Perhaps not as nuanced as Kubo and lacking that dark edge of Coraline, Missing Link is however that thing that has perhaps been the “missing link” for Laika’s filmography; a film that is in all sense of the word, fun!