As far as animation houses go, the stop-frame animation loyalists at Laika have a perfect record in my book, with a run that includes ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, Kubo and the Two Strings, and now their most accessible film to date, Missing Link, about a charming adventurer on a seemingly impossible quest to locate the Sasquatch and help it find its long-lost relatives in the Himalayas. Although Missing Link seems more aimed at a younger audience than other Laika productions (so much so that I had to keep reminding myself it wasn’t an Aardman work), it still finds fun ways to be subversive and adult friendly as well, especially in the ways it champions science and facts over reputation and the status quo of the time period being represented (I’m guessing turn-of-the-20th century).
Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman) is an investigator of the unusual—a man bent on proving that some myths and monsters (like that creature that supposedly lives in Loch Ness) are real. By taking this position, he exists on the fringe of the accepted scientific community, personified by Lord Piggot-Dunceb (Stephen Fry), who not only doesn’t believe in Frost’s theories, but actively seeks to make sure Frost doesn’t prove any of them to be true. When Frost gets an anonymous letter from the America’s Pacific Northwest that tells him that the Sasquatch is real and that he should come and find him, Frost rushes to the region and not only finds the hairy creature, but discovers that he can talk and that it was he (whom he names Mr. Link, voiced by Zach Galifianakis) who sent the letter in the first place. Not sure how to proceed, Mr. Link bemoans the fact that he is the last of his kind in the area and asks Frost if he will take him to the Himalayas to find the Yeti, whom he believes are distant cousins of some sort that hopefully will greet their American relative with open arms.
Meanwhile, Lord Piggot-Denceb has hired a bounty hunter named Stenk (Timothy Olyphant) to follow Frost and stop him from doing anything to prove the existence of a missing link, even if that means killing him and Mr. Link in the process. In order to find the mysterious Yeti valley of Shangri-La, Frost and Link must acquire a map from Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), the widow of a fellow explorer and perhaps something a little bit more to Frost at one time. Eventually, the three head out to India with Stenk on their trail, and the race to prove or disprove ancient mythology is on.
By making Mr. Link about the most docile, agreeable and literal creature on earth, Missing Link is heavy on the charm, with Galifianakis only letting his weird side slip through when it serves the character’s odd nature. The running joke is that he wears ridiculous clothes and nobody really notices that he’s anything more than a hairy man. The third-act inclusion of Emma Thompson as the voice of the Yeti elder is a particularly nice touch, with the production design of Shangri-La being especially stunning.
From writer/director Chris Butler (ParaNorman), Missing Link is a film that feels built on kindness, acceptance, friendship and the spirit of adventure. Its dark corners are few and far between, but be warned: characters do actually die (in fairly innocuous ways) in this story. Jackman and Galifianakis make a perfect pairing and their voice chemistry blends so well that I’m almost curious what they would be like together in a live-action pairing. Like all Laika works, the artistry, attention to detail and design work is devastatingly beautiful and worth freeze-framing just to savor the craftsmanship. Certainly, the story is more lightweight than we’re used to from this company, but that doesn’t take away from what’s on the screen. Not all the jokes land, but that’s true of any animated film; and the ones that do, often land exactly how they need to and with authority. In case you can’t tell, I adore Missing Link and I’m guessing all ages will as well.
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