Laika Studios, one of the most prolific producers of stop-motion films, is celebrating their tenth anniversary this year by releasing their most visually impressive film to date. The film's characters and tropes of Missing Link may be a bit well-worn, but the movie is effortlessly charming, elevated by the direction and sheer quality of the animation throughout the film.
The film centers primarily around Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman), an infamous explorer at the turn of the 20th century who finds himself befriending his newest discovery, a mysterious Sasquatch from the Pacific Northwest. The Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis) turns out to be a pretty kind and soft-spoken guy who agrees to allow Lionel to prove his existence to the world if Lionel will help him find the last connection to his species -- the Yeti, located deep in the Himalayans. To find the supposed Shangri-La that is supposedly his home, Mister Link and Frost have to travel across the entire world, contending with threats both human and natural.
The narrative takes Lionel and the newly dubbed Mister Link around the world, to a wealth of locations that range from Southern California to London to India and and into the furthest mountains. Over the course of the film, the charming pair have their relationship grow, as Lionel learns to let go of his ego and do things for someone else. The plot is a well-trodden one, benefited by solid voice performances from Jackson, Galifanakis and an equally strong Zoe Saldana as Frost's fellow explorer and former paramour, Adelina Fortnight.
It's an agreeable enough plot with a well-intended message, one that is unburdened by extreme depth or introspection. The characters aren't as fleshed out as previous Laika protagonists, but they don't have to be. The movie is more concerned with the adventure than the characters who are on it.
Luckily, the visuals of the film are more than enough to elevate the film beyond the standard story. The stop-motion animation is particularly strong, with the producers creating arguably the studio's most distinct and impressive looking film to date. The adventure takes the cast across the entire world, with each location receiving in-depth attention and details. The film's light tone allows the wide-ranging exploration real time to breathe, allowing viewers to take in some of the most well-constructed animation of any kind in a good while.
Particular credit has to be given to frequent Laika director Chris Butler, a veteran of the studio who previously directed the criminally underrated ParaNorman and also wrote the screenplay for the movie. Butler frames each scene as a high-stakes adventure in it's own right. The consistent threat of the film is personified by an American cutthroat named Stenk (Timothy Olyphant) who has been sent to keep Frost from revealing the existence of Mister Link (and therefore the Sasquatch as a true creature) to the world. He's an uncomplicated villain, but a consistent enough threat to always offer a reason for Frost to end up in a new action set-piece.
Laika is currently in the same unenviable position Pixar was during their initial run of films. The early output from the studio is of such a high caliber that anything less than perfect may suffer by comparison. But despite the light character work, Missing Link is a gorgeously animated journey that is arguably the artistic peak from the studio (even when compared to something like Coraline or Kubo & the Two Strings.) While it may not be a perfect film, it's still incredibly impressive. And sometimes, that's more than enough to make for a good time at the movies.
Directed by Chris Butler, Missing Link stars Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana, Zach Galifiankis, Timothy Olyphant, David Williams, Emma Thompson, Matt Lucas, Ching Valdes-Aran, Stephen Fry and Amrita Acharia. The film opens Apr. 12, 2019.