Between Missing Link, ParaNorman, Kubo and the Two Strings and everything else that Laika Studios has put out, there’s a strong argument to be made that they’ve taken the stop-motion crown away from Aardman Animation.
Of course, we’re still in good hands if Aardman someday reclaims that crown, as there can never be too much stop-motion to go round.
From Laika Studios and ParaNorman director/writer Chris Butler, Missing Link is the latest venture into stop-motion, which once again reminds us just how beautiful this medium of filmmaking can be.
The story revolves around Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) and the various quests that take him halfway across the entire known world.
From mermen to the Lochness Monster, Frost — an avid explorer who lives simply for the thrill of discovery — has found his way into just about every secret hideout or hidden world that you could possibly think of.
All except one, that is.
The one placed he hasn’t been able to enter is the one you might think the easiest: a high-class British club known as the society of other ‘great men.’
To join said group, participants have to do something that the leader, Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry), considers to be manly. More often than not, that typically involves hunting, killing and then stuffing some kind of giant beast, which is a practice that Frost isn’t particularly fond of.
However, after getting an anonymous letter sent to him from someone claiming that there’s a Bigfoot wandering around Western America, Frost figures he’ll ignore his conscience just this one time and bring the creature back to the rest of the boys.
Upon arriving in Washington and finding the Bigfoot, though, Frost quickly comes to the realization that it’s not going to be that simple.
For starters, the Bigfoot — who Frost names Mr. Link before he eventually gives himself the first name of ‘Susan’ (Zach Galifianakis) can speak. Not just in growls or single muttered words, but in full-on, rambling sentences.
As it turns out, Susan is actually the one who sent Frost the letter, given that he needs the explorer’s help. Poor Susan is lonely out here in America, you see, as all the other Bigfoots have either been killed or gone into hiding.
What Susan wants, then, is to be taken back to Europe so that they can find some of his long-lost ancestors he believes to be living in the Himalayas.
Reluctantly, Frost agrees. He maybe hasn’t worked out this whole plan in his head just quite yet, but bringing Susan — er, Bigfoot — closer to his homeland can only make his job of getting into the society of other ‘great men’ easier, right?
Yet, the longer this journey goes on, the more incapable Frost finds himself in carrying out his mission. Whether it’s his former flame — an adventurer named Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana) who is also along for the ride — constantly trying to convince him not to go through with this, or the fact that Susan is just a lovable idiot, turning him over suddenly becomes a lot harder than Frost expected.
That’s a storyline that we’ve done, what, two hundred times, maybe more, in film at this point?
Thing is, even when predicting that Missing Link would likely be somewhat formulaic just from the trailers, there was still a lot of excitement around this movie. Whenever Laika Productions makes a new movie, you’re pretty much guaranteed that it’s going to look great and it’s going to be wildly original in some kind of new and challenging way.
Having now seen Missing Link, I can say that the first part of that statement still holds up, at least?
I know I’ve already gawked and squawked about stop-motion to an exhausting level at this point, but, really, it can’t be overstated how good this movie looks. While Laika was still trying to figure out what, exactly, they could and couldn’t do with this medium in Coraline and ParaNorman, they’ve now hit their stride and are committed to creating only the biggest and best-looking creations.
That’s important, too, because stop-motion is really something that can’t be fully duplicated by any other kind of filmmaking. There’s this sequence in Missing Link that takes place on a boat during a storm — a common trope, I know — but the way it’s shot reminded me of Inception and The Shining combined into one, which is something that really couldn’t have been done as effectively in a live-action or traditional animation format.
The bummer comes from the rest of the movie, as there really isn’t anything else about Missing Link that sticks out as being noteworthy.
I mean, the story is fine, I guess. You see every story-beat coming from a mile away, and even when they add in some fun components like Timothy Olyphant as this murderous cowboy or Emma Thompson as a stuck-up yeti, everything plays out exactly as you’d expect.
The real crime doesn’t come from the story, though — it comes from a lack of heart.
Much like Guillermo del Toro, Laika often likes to make movies about people who are considered to be outcast from society, then using them to show the audience how messed up society can be at times. Missing Link has a premise that seems like it’s setting that up once again — and, at times, it does capitalize on that — but not before bombarding us with dozens and dozens of poop jokes and slapstick humor, first.
To be clear, I’m not placing any blame on Galifianakis for this. Between Missing Link, Birdman and A Wrinkle in Time he’s really turned his career around by picking more interesting projects as of late, even if those projects don’t aways turn out perfectly.
Rather, it’s just the way Susan’s character was written that started to get on my nerves after awhile. I wanted him to be this big, irresistibly adorable figure like we saw in Travis Knight’s Bumblebee or del Toro’s Hellboy (as much as I had fun with the new Hellboy, that one doesn’t really fit the bill), but they use Susan as a mean to tell a bunch of unfunny jokes for almost the entire run-time that I found myself not feeling anything at all for him.
With Jackman’s character largely sticking to familiar arcs, the only one we actually have to root in all of this is Zoe Saldana — a strongly written individual who really isn’t given a whole lot to do, despite the fact that she’d make for a far more interesting protagonist than Frost did.
Missing Link is more so a disappointment than it is a complete failure. When going into a Laika Studios film, you’re hoping for the best. Maybe that’s an unfair expectation to put on any one film, but the fact is that we’ve seen them be great so many times before that you can’t hope they’re going to do it again. Missing Link might have the look and feel of one of their movies, but it’s still missing that extra something. I’ve still seen far, far worse kids movies, but when compared to other stop-motion work as of late, this is one of the more forgettable entries I’ve seen.
Watch the trailer for Missing Link here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought of the movie!
'Missing Link' - Long live stop-motion [REVIEW]6