Review: Missing Link (2019)
Missing Link is the kind of bright, friendly, optimistic entertainment that all children’s animated films ought to be, but rarely are. It continues Laika’s exceptional run of feature films (including Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings) and is as technically astounding as you’d expect from the Oregon-based animation studio. However, the film has a broader appeal than the studio’s previous films, playing more as a juvenile adventure-comedy than the complicated and Gothic-tinged stories of the past. That’s why it’s so distressing that the film has flopped at the box office and is quickly disappearing from theatres. It’s a hilarious, beautiful film about family and the need to belong, simple and familiar themes for children’s entertainment, but profound nevertheless.
Pivoting away from the Gothic-influenced genres of Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls, and the mythic storytelling of Kubo and the Two Strings, Missing Link plays as a juvenile adventure-comedy in the mode of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim or Robert A. Heinlein’s science-fiction reworking of the same, Citizen of the Galaxy. It follows Mr. Link (Zach Galifianakis), a Sasquatch living alone in the Pacific Northwest, who teams up with the egotistical adventurer, Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman), and his former flame, Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), to find a lost city of Yetis in the heights of the Himalayas. It has spectacular sequences high in the mountains and on the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and captures a bit of the wonder for adventure that you find in works like James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, which popularized the legend of Shangri-La.
It’s also an affable film, with three characters who are well-written and easy to root for. Each of the three characters are driven by a desire to carve out their own identities: Link wants to find other creatures like him, Sir Lionel Frost wants membership in the society of great men led by his rival (and the film’s villain) Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry), and Adelina Fortnight wants to embrace a life on her own after the death of her husband. There is enormous clarity in the character building and storytelling. It’s not simplistic, but rather elegant, and easy for viewers, both young and old, to follow. Of course, being a Laika film, there’s also some sadness here, but it doesn’t overwhelm the picture as it did in the likes of ParaNorman, director Chris Butler’s previous film.
In fact, Missing Link is much broader in tone and funnier than any past Laika film. Not only does the adventure narrative allow for many funny scenarios in exotic locations across the world, but the genial voicework by Galifianakis, Saldana, Timothy Olyphant, and especially Jackman does a lot to enliven the ample humour already present in the script. There’s even a masterful poop joke that is on the level of Dumb & Dumber in terms of low-brow wit.
Of course, the greatest standout is the animation. After Kubo and the Two Strings took stop-motion animation to unmatched heights, I wasn’t ready for another leap forward in animation quality so soon. In Missing Link, the movements of the stop-motion puppets are so seamless, and the environments they inhabit so detailed, that it’s essentially impossible to tell it’s stop-motion at this point. That’s not to say it looks computer animated or “unreal.” Quite the opposite, in fact, because not only does the stylization of the stop-motion in Missing Link make everything visually interesting, but the seamlessness and tactile nature of the characters and sets make the film utterly credible. Simply put, the happenings on screen in Missing Link look more real than anything in Avengers: Endgame.
Furthermore, the character animation has advanced to such a point that the characters seem “performed,” instead of simply animated. For example, when Sir Lionel Frost walks, he doesn’t simply walk forward seamlessly, he has a specific gait to his walk, with his chest leading the way and his hands operating delicately and more than a little daintily, demonstrating essential aspects of the character. The action is also marvellous. Improving on the sword fight on the boat in Kubo and the Two Strings, Missing Link has another boat scene that’s reminiscent of the hallway scene in Inception in regards to its spatially-clear action filmmaking and kinetic pleasures.
All told, Missing Link is not only a delightful juvenile adventure, but a work of astounding technical accomplishment. It’s exceptional entertainment for young and old. I hope it finds the audience it deserves.
8 out of 10
Missing Link (2019, USA)
Written and directed by Chris Butler; starring Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana, Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, David Walliams, Timothy Olyphant, Matt Lucas, Amrita Acharia, and Zach Galifianakis.