From the studio that created “ParaNorman”, “Coraline”, “Box Trolls”, and “Kubo and the Two Strings”, LAIKA expands their vision, with their fifth production, “Missing Link”. Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana, Emma Thompson and Zach Galifianakis lend their voices to this road trip that traverses continents.
Per the press release:
“Missing Link is an artistic and technical wonder,” said Mr. Knight. “Led by our visionary director Chris Butler, LAIKA has once again blended fine art, craftsmanship, and cutting-edge technology to achieve something we’ve never tried before: a raucous comedy entwined with a swashbuckling epic, underscoring the universal need to find belonging. Commingling keenly felt emotion, madcap humor, and retina-bursting visuals, Missing Link is a kaleidoscopic cinematic experience unlike any other. It’s the most striking thing we’ve ever done.”
The charismatic Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman) considers himself to be the world’s foremost investigator of myths and monsters. The trouble is none of his small-minded high-society peers seems to recognize this. Sir Lionel’s last chance for acceptance by the adventuring elite rests on traveling to America’s Pacific Northwest to prove the existence of a legendary creature. A living remnant of Man’s primitive ancestry. The Missing Link.
Zach Galifianakis is Mr. Link: the slightly silly, surprisingly smart and soulful beast upon whom Sir Lionel’s dreams depend. As species go, he’s as endangered as they get; he’s the last of his kind, and he’s lonely. Proposing a daring quest to seek out his rumored distant relatives, he enlists Sir Lionel’s help in an odyssey around the world to find the fabled valley of Shangri-La.
Together with Adelina Fortnight (voiced by Zoe Saldana), an independent and resourceful adventurer who possesses the only known map to the group’s secret destination, the unlikely trio embarks on a riotous rollercoaster of a ride. Along the way, our fearless explorers encounter more than their fair share of peril, stalked at every turn by dastardly villains seeking to thwart their mission. Through it all, Mr. Link’s disarming charm and good-humored conviction provide the emotional and comedic foundation of this fun-filled family film.
I appreciate that the studio is pushing the limits of the technology of stop motion, expanding sets, costumes and scenery. At times their previous endeavors, although absorbing, did feel boxed in sometimes. Here the film’s universe feels limitless. “Missing Link” creates panoramic views. The detail on their figures and costumes is impeccable, as with every LAIKA film. But that is where the detail ends. No storyline or personalities were developed for these characters and backdrops.
None of the characters earn the audience’s sympathies, as in “ParaNorman.” None of the characters are unique or memorable, as with “Box Trolls.” And the storyline isn’t developed as with “Coraline” and “Kubo.” The Sasquatch’s personality is barely developed. A cartoonish villain (pun intended) harkens back to the days of Hanna Barbera studios and Dudley Do-Right. But even he isn’t interesting enough to leave an impression. There is no test of morals to push the central figures to greater development or create tension with the audience.
“Missing Link” focuses on LAIKA’s common theme of inclusiveness, and overcoming your past. However, this theme falls to the side. The focus is moving characters through set after set. At times the film maker would cut a scene of extended “Road Runner” silliness, to the next scene, with no resolution. It felt as if the scenes were changed mid-shoot, to compensate for previously untested limits of the stop motion, or possibly budget limits for additional sets. My favorite sets and characters were among the Yeti, who were not used nearly enough. Hopefully they will get their own film.
Most pre-teens will enjoy this film. It does contain physical violence and scenes too scary for very young children. Everyone in my home is a fan of LAIKA’s past movies. However, even my teenage daughter, who hopes to go into stop motion animation, said that “Missing Link” was missing that “something” that makes LAIKA truly wonderful. She did mention that the scenes were more epic and impressive than previous stop motion films.
“Missing Link” opens nationwide on Friday, April 12th.
Photo Credit: Laika Studios / Annapurna Pictures