Anyone with eyeballs needs to see every Laika movie, no questions asked. After personally being enlightened with Paranorman, there was no question about the studio’s status as unparalleled stop-motion masters. Even more exciting is the variance of their catalogue, from the still genuinely creepy Coraline to the poetic Kubo and the Two Strings. And for all you people (re: heathens) who think animation is just kid’s stuff, they even animated the best part of A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. Even if you don’t nerd out about the dedication, effort, and just plain stupid stuff they do to make a 90-minute movie, the visuals are usually worth the price of admission alone.
Missing Link is no exception to this rule, as the studio one-upped itself again in terms of visuals, animation, and visual storytelling. The film about an adventurer discovering the possibly last Sasquatch in the world and trying to help find others of his kind is gorgeous in every single frame and that is not an exaggeration. Unfortunately, for all the highest highs that the animation achieves, the same cannot be said about the story Occasionally, the story and visuals will line up to create a wonderful harmony, but they happen infrequently, especially as the film rushes along, leaving us with a beautifully wrapped bar of chocolate that ends up just being Hershey’s.
Director: Chris Butler
Release Date: April 12, 2019
Zach Galifianakis plays the eponymous character of the Sasquatch, also called Mr. Link, but he is not actually the main character. Instead, the Hugh Jackman-voiced Sir Lionel Frost, mythical beast hunter extraordinaire, takes the lead as a wealthy, self-obsessed yet ridiculed British aristocrat who wants nothing more to be accepted into the cool kids’ adventurer’s club. Upon meeting Mr. Link in the rugged Washington wilderness, Lionel agrees to take the large orange creature to the Himalayas in search of his “cousins,” the Yeti. Thus kicks off the two’s globe-trotting adventure while Frost’s nemesis, Lord Piggot-Dunceby (voiced by Stephen Fry), and his goons try to stop the two to prevent Dunceby from losing a bet and letting Lionel into his adventurer’s club.
There were clearly huge ambitions with this film and visually, they all paid off in spades. Everything from the sweeping vistas to the meticulously decorated rooms looks more than real, like a fantastical exaggeration of our world. Colors are so vibrant they entrance you, be it the rugged, cool, Washington wilderness, the rolling plains of Europe, or India’s dense, lush rainforest. In addition to the huge, expansive sets, the animation and expressions are wonderfully complex, breathing life into every scene. Individual parts of Mr. Link’s fur wave in the wind, while Lionel is a nimble and exciting in the film’s multiple fantastic action sequences. The way he fights a giant beast or navigates a thrashing boat during a storm is not only exhilarating, but it also provides great characterization for the nobleman who can beat you in a fight without getting dirt on his coat. Close-up animation is equally as impressive as you’ll see slight ticks of Lionel’s doubt and Mr. Link’s eyes go from hope and excitement to trepidation and anxiety all in a split-second. It’s a visual feast of the highest quality.
I wish I could say the same for the rest of the narrative too but, unfortunately, that’s where Missing Link stumbles often. The narrative is a simple premise about finding acceptance and your true family, one of the most common plots but still charming and fun if done well. Missing Link is far too obvious and clunky for any of that satisfaction. I’m not talking so obvious so that children can understand it as well, but so obvious that every single plot point is spoken at a character to shove it down your throat. Cliched lines abound aplenty, and I’m sure even the kids in the theatre could see everything from a mile away as well. This is especially disappointing because the animation shows glimpses of more complex thoughts, but the story never allows itself to settle on those more subtle, more effective moments.
A rushed feeling pervades the movie in general too. Cramming a trip around the world into 90 minutes would be hard for a travel documentary, let alone including a narrative and characterization. As soon as we see the American frontier’s desert plane, we’re whisked away to a boat on the rough seas and then immediately hoisted onto a train right thereafter. The blistering pace wreaks the most havoc on Lionel’s and Mr. Link’s relationship, as the two never have a chance to interact with each other because they are so busy dealing with the next locale. There is a part where Lionel apologizes to Mr. Link for treating him like a chauffeur, but Mr. Link has shown zero signs of pain, anger, or sadness to that point, making the scene seem like it’s checking a box of friendship development rather than something that actually happened in the movie. This problem relates to everyone, most egregiously visible in Lionel’s former love interest Adelina (Zoe Saldana,) whose lines mostly exist to move the plot forward and whose character begins and ends with “spicy Latina who speaks in Spanish when angry.”
There are good parts of the script, but they end up drowning in the rest of it. As you would expect, Galifianakis’ Mr. Link has some great humorous moments, taking everything a bit too literally and serving as a great foil to the idiomatic Lionel. However, Mr. Link gets the fewest lines by far of the main characters, and he mostly seems along for the ride. Villain Dunceby has moments of intense cruelty and gross beliefs about “civilized society,” but those quickly vanish in favour of portraying him as a spoiled crybaby. Because you’re asked to consume all the pretty scenes, there’s little time for anything else.
In this sense, Missing Link is highly dichotomous, with the story feeling lifeless while the world around it is glowing and rich. Taking things a little slower or removing a few locations would have allowed the audience to soak up more of both the animation and the narrative. The world is brimming with life, intrigue, and detail, sometimes even seeping into the characters, but it happens not nearly enough, making Missing Link an outstanding visual poem, but only a good movie.