For a studio that releases a feature film once every three years, stop-motion animators Laika are always going to struggle maintaining momentum in a film industry that can reboot a franchises in less time. When the world of cinema is torn between blockbusters and streaming services, smaller film companies across the world all have to fight for brand loyalty; Laika aren’t alone in that contest. so, when the films coming out of a film studio are as consistently entertaining as they are for the stop motion studio, it’s a true shame to see such a fight for box office revenue.
Missing Link comes 32 whole months after their last offering, the massively underrated Kubo and the Two Strings. It puts an alternative spin on the story of the Sasquatch and like Monsters Inc or Hotel Transylvania puts a usually-villainous protagonist at the center of a very human quest. Here, Mr. Link (Zach Galifianakis) enlists the help of Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) and the initially-reluctant Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana) to find his ancestral homeland – all whilst his two human companions embark on their own path to belong.
Recently, The Incredibles 2 and The LEGO Movie have had, respectively, the Parr Family and Emmet Brickowski journey to find their place in the world. Given that these films are made primarily for young children, it is heartening to see writers and directors take on such bold, dense and inspiring storylines. Missing Link jumps right into just such a tale, and from the aforementioned desire to belong all the way up to gender expectations it is unafraid to push the envelope.
Some may worry that using modern-age morals might muddy the narrative, particularly in the ‘basic’ world of children’s animation. The fact is, these messages tie in so well to the heroes’ development that they’re almost subliminal. Mr. Link’s primitive education means he interprets everything very literally, and this allows these issues to play for laughs without ever mocking them. Besides, visually the film is such a treat – as expected from the masters of stop-motion – that it’s easy to get lost in the screen.
As if challenging the abilities of his home studio, director Chris Butler plots an adventure of globetrotting proportions that brings to mind Indiana Jones – right down to the on-screen map. Showing off the capabilities of the Laika team, the film spins through as many natural environments as its band of practical animators can handle. There’s the desert setting of a Western, the snowy peaks of the Himalayas and in the most breathtaking sequence, the dense forests of South-East Asia. There is the traditional inter-credits scene that shows a Laika set in construction; this time, however, as if spurred to recognize the collaborative nature of animation, the deconstruction showcases the work of the CGI animators alongside its model makers.
The studio is again successful in courting a familiar voice cast and, in this instance more than any other, the use of actors seems to run deeper than mere audio work. Frost in particular takes on the mannerisms of Hugh Jackman, and Mr. Link has Galifianakis’s warm and charming personality in droves. So successful is this matching of character to actor that there is something of a motion-cap feel to it.