Review: “Missing Link”

3.5 out of 5 stars.

In a film world dominated by studios making 3D animated movies, the stop motion animation studio Laika has always stood out.  And not just in their methods of animation, but also the content they produce: their feature films have ranged from creepy and gothic tales (“Coraline” and “ParaNorman”) to rich fables like “Kubo and the Two Strings.”  But the studio’s latest film, “Missing Link,” is a step in a more conventional direction, although it still boasts plenty of humor, charm, heart, and gorgeous visuals to make it a worthwhile watch.

Written and directed by Chris Butler (director of “ParaNorman” and a co-writer of “Kubo”), “Missing Link” follows British explorer Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman), an egotistical aristocrat who seeks to provide evidence of mythical creatures so that he will be admitted into a prestigious society of great men, led by Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry).  When he is tipped off to the existence of the sasquatch in northwest America, Lionel makes a deal with Piggot-Dunceby that if he can prove that the creature is real, he will be accepted into the society.

But the situation turns out to be a little more complicated.  Lionel was actually summoned by the sasquatch himself (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), who is, quite simply, lonely, and wants Lionel to take him to his cousins, the yetis, in the Himalayas.  Lionel, hoping to still fulfill his end of the deal, agrees, and the two go off on a journey that takes them around the world.  Along the way they cross paths with Lionel’s former flame Adelina (Zoe Saldana) and are pursued by Piggot-Duncey and his accomplices (most prominently the appropriately named Willard Stenk, voiced by Timothy Olyphant) who want to prevent him from joining their organization.

Mister Link/Susan (Zach Galifianakis) demonstrates that he can read and write.

The different nature of the animation makes Laika’s films look unlike any other mainstream animated features out there, and “Missing Link” is no exception.  This movie is beautiful, and features a lot of soft colors (many of the different locales the characters visit look like they belong on a postcard), gorgeous lighting, and good variety in its character design.  The crew at Laika are clearly experts in their craft—just stay through the beginning of the credits to see a quick timelapse of the animators working on one of the scenes.  The sasquatch—who goes by Mister Link and later, Susan (in a conversation that shows it’s okay to flip gender norms on their head)—is especially loveable, partly due to his design and animation, and partly due to Galifianakis’ voice work.  The dry humor that results from Susan taking everything literally is genuinely funny, and there’s plenty of amusing dialogue and slapstick scenes to go around.

Unfortunately, the story isn’t drawn out as well as it could have been.  As charming and entertaining as it is, there isn’t anything particularly unique and groundbreaking about it.  Some of the story, especially in terms of Lionel’s character development, feels rushed and therefore forced, while the villains don’t have an especially alarming agenda behind their actions.  The movie alludes to some deeper issues, like the colonization of other races by white men, but doesn’t make them a central part of the story.

But there is a lot to say about the film’s message of finding friends in the unlikeliest of places, and discovering where you truly belong.  The story does a nice job of drawing parallels between Susan and Lionel, and how both of them are isolated by others of their kind.  In the end, it’s their relationship and how they help each other overcome their obstacles that drives the story, and while that may not be the most novel of premises, its execution makes it memorable.

Runtime: 94 minutes. Rated PG.

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