It's not so much that Missing Link is a miss for Laika in only their fifth outing. It's just that after four remarkable films, one can't help but feel like Missing Link is missing part of the Laika magic that we've come to expect after films such as ParaNorman, Kubo and the Two Strings, Coraline, and The Boxtrolls stood out as visionary animated features in a Hollywood world filled to the brim with critically acclaimed cookie-cutter wannabes nearly devoid of anything resembling an original voice.
A Laika Studios film has always been different. Until now.
Missing Link is a good film. It may even be close to a very good film.
It's just, well, rather ordinary.
Written and directed by ParaNorman's Chris Butler, Missing Link takes the Victorian era as its setting. Hugh Jackman's Sir Lionel Frost is an adventurer of sorts, the kind of chap who embarks on mythical searches for mythical creatures in an effort to obtain photographic evidence of their real life existence. It's the type of story we've certainly seen before and Laika's effort here certainly holds its own among its predecessors.
Again, Missing Link isn't a bad film. I'm not sure it can even be called a bad Laika film. In fact, it may even qualify as Laika's most accessible film to date. Unfortunately, part of the Laika magic has simply gotten lost in the segue from arthouse animated feature to something feels so Hollywood that you can't help but be a bit surprised that it's an Annapurna Pictures release.
But hey, kudos to Annapurna.
In the film, a mysterious letter sets Frost on the trail of the elusive Sasquatch who, when discovered, ends up not being so much a dastardly beast as a rather lovable sort voiced to perfection by Zach Galifianakis. In fact, he's a rather lonely creature who longs to reunite with the Yetis of the Shangri-La, his ancestors.
Loneliness is a theme that plays throughout Missing Link and this odd coupling here makes for many endearing and humorous moments throughout the film's breezy 95-minute running time. There's linguistic hijinks to be found throughout Missing Link, though by the time the film ends they do admittedly become a bit tiresome. Telling the same joke 20 times even if it's in 20 different ways doesn't mean you're going to get 20 different laughs. If anything, Missing Link likely overachieves by snagging a good 15 or so despite the humor's repetitive nature.
What Missing Link lacks in originality and character development, Butler largely makes up for by creating what may very well be the best Laika universe yet. The hand-crafted worlds in which Missing Link is set are beautifully rendered, exquisitely detailed masterpieces of time and place. Missing Link takes us around the world, from the busy London streets to ice-enveloped Himalayan terrain to the jungles of India and the woodsy Pacific Northwest in the U.S. All of these settings are mesmerizing to behold, Butler's hypnotic set pieces easily holding your interest even when the story itself sags.
While Galifianakis's vocal work is the stand-out here, Hugh Jackman manages to see a rather unusual leading man, the rather arrogant and self-centered Frost whose headstrong nature and identification with this creature he's discovered is never really explored well enough. Nonetheless, Jackman's vocal work is exceptional here. The same is true for Zoe Saldana as Adelina Fortnight, a fiercely independent adventurer and widower of another distinguished adventurer.
Perhaps less memorable and less likely to attract a cult following like Laika's previous films, Missing Link is still an engaging, entertaining motion picture rich with positive universal themes and life lessons quite likely to please young and old alike and, if there's any justice at all, also likely to attract some more attention to the full Laika catalogue.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic