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It’s been just ten years since Laika established itself with its cleverly dark and twisted feature film debut, Coraline. Then the studio crafted tales brimming with creepy creatures and heartwarming stories in Paranorman and The Boxtrolls before telling an emotional hero’s journey of loss and redemption in Kubo and the Two Strings. The cutting-edge stop motion animation studio has more up its sleeves than delivering often nightmarish, debatably “family films” now that its fifth entry, Missing Link, has come along.
Missing Link is a lavish adventure flick based on long-held myths that’s a bit of a rarity these days, especially adapted from another hand than Disney. It’s Laika’s own sort-of take on Raiders of the Lost Ark as three explorers and a competing party look to find gratification in being the first to lodge their footsteps into a fabled destination. It’s a grand demonstration of the leaps and bounds the stop-motion animation studio can achieve, with this being Laika’s lightest, most delightful body of work yet – though it's mostly one-dimensional story-wise.
The animated film follows Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman), a narcissistic myth and monsters investigator who’s just looking for the respect he deserves for the work he’s often been discredited for. In haste to seek the approval of a society of an elite group of discoverers he wishes to be a part of, he looks into a letter written by a Sasquatch himself (Zach Galifianakis), who will lovingly be known as audiences by Susan. It doesn’t take long for the unlikely pair team up to find Susan’s long-lost Yeti cousins and the glory Frost desires – and the two make quite the buddy comedy duo that Galifianakis especially thrives and shines on.
The running bit revolves around Susan’s socially awkward tendencies and jabs at the funny phrases in the English language. Thanks to Galifianakis’ expert deadpan humor and the warm, huggable innocence he exudes in Missing Link much of the time, these interactions actually work frequently and make for some funny misadventures between Hugh Jackman’s jaded character and the big, fluffy Sasquatch he now rolls with, though this can get a bit predictable as they move along.
The clear Indiana Jones inspiration doesn’t stop at the plotline; Missing Link has its own Marion too – Zoe Saldana’s Adelina. She and Frost have their own troubled past, though this film puts its own interesting and modern twist on the dynamic that’s one of the most fun threads in the movie to watch play out. All in all, the movie keeps it simple and self-contained as far as each backstory goes as a treasured childhood storybook would, which is quite refreshing for the imagination in an age when just about every animated character is getting their own franchise and spinoff. That being said, it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel regarding what is to be expected.
While much of Laika’s previous stories have its characters venturing not too far from home, in Missing Link Frost, Susan and Adelina travel to destinations all over the globe in a beautiful showcase of the studio’s advancements, even since Kubo. This movie goes for a completely different aesthetic for the studio that is bright and beautiful, and implements CGI effects along with its meticulous sets and puppeteering technology that now appear seamless on the big screen. The scale of what can be created from Laika looks boundless from here with this entrance into the adventure genre.
Though as Missing Link takes on a grander scale, one might expect the globe-trotting journey to have more winding roads and trails than it actually can afford to have in its 95-minute runtime. Once the heroes make it to the end of the road, it feels as if they leave too soon. It’s a short-and-sweet, get-to-the-point type of movie which will hit the right beats for some, but feel a bit lacking for others.
The story of Missing Link also can feel as if it leaves out some emotional backstory and depth one might expect in the a film like this – they’re simply passing through. Again, this approach mostly serves as a energizing jumpstart to the imagination and intrigue of the world explored in the film, making it a beautiful indisputable “family film” about exploration, mythology and the universal theme of finding your place and acceptance in the world. After the emotional ride Laika's previous work has taken us on, fans of the studio may find themselves a bit disappointed in the outcome.
Missing Link is another charming gem from Laika that continues to boast its visual peak, though it does not dive too deeply or darkly into the story it has to tell. The combination of sharp wit from the talented cast and endearing messages make for another welcome piece of stop-motion art that bring what we love about the adventure genre to a new canvas. I can’t wait to see what else Laika has in store for audiences of all ages as the studio continues to craft its own unique lane in the world of animation - though I hope it can raise the stakes on its stories as much as it has with its visuals.