Missing Link (2019) Review
YET UNINSPIRINGLY SIMPLE
Nowadays, Walt Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, and Illumination Entertainment are the commonplace staples animation studios for children’s motion picture entertainment. Each of these studios have proven their worth in bringing animated cartoon features to the silver screen, bringing plenty of laughs, heart, and memorable moments within their category film length endeavors of colorful characters and unique animation styles. While those studios are considered the “power house” one animation features, Lakia Entertainment, a stop-motion animation company that was founded in 2005 has been slowly building a reputation for both quality and care of their film’s presentations and well-crafted storytelling. With films like Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and Kubo and the Two Strings (their last feature to be released), Laika offers more than just the standard / traditional full-length cartoon movie endeavor, providing a cinematic tale of more artistic invention and bringing more mature themes / sophisticated messages to the proceedings. Now, three years after the release of Kubo and the Two Strings, Laika Entertainment (as well as Annapurna Pictures) and director Chris Butler present the sixth Laika studio film with the movie Missing Link. Does this latest animated endeavor rise to occasion or does it fail to impress moviegoers at the previous release from the illustrious animation studio?
Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) is an eccentric investigator of monsters and myth, who is determined to prove his worth (and findings) and gain membership to a Victorian-era London’s illustrious Adventure Club of “Great Men”. However, the society club’s leader Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry) finds Lionel’s pursuing interest of fantastical creatures / beasts to be diminutive and ridiculous, especially since Lionel has never brought solid / concrete evident proof of his findings. That being said, when an opportunity presents itself, Lionel strikes a bargain with Piggot-Dunceby to find the legendary creature sasquatch in America in exchange for entry into the club. Arriving in the wilderness of America, Lionel comes across the Bigfoot creature (Zach Galifianakis), a more kind-hearted, polite, and quizzical being that what was expected, who is lonely and looking to find himself a new home….to the far-side of the world where his so-called cousins “the Yetis” dwell within the fabled place known as Shangri-La. Swiftly, Lionel strikes a deal with the beasts (calling by the name “Mr. Link), to take him to the Himalayan mountains in exchange of proof of creature’s existence for Piggot-Dunceby. Accompanied by former adventurer widow Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), Lionel and Mr. Link set off on their journey, taking them far and wide to reach their destination of the mysterious whereabout of Shangri-La. Unfortunately, Piggot-Dunceby, soon finds out of Lionel’s mission, sending trouble their way to disrupt the trio from completing their mission.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I’ve always stated before (in several of my reviews) that I’m big avid fan of animated features films. Of course, I always love seeing ones from the major studios (i.e. Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, and Illumination Entertainment, etc.), but I do like seeing other non-big studios get their moments to shine and produce animated motions pictures every now and again. Such is the case with Laika Entertainment. Of course, the don’t have the long illustrious history such as Disney or other similar studios, but Laika’s movies definitely have a higher quality in both narrative storytelling and in animation (foregoing the more traditional computer visuals for stop-motion animation). Still, the studio has continued to evolve, embracing new technology and ideas for the features as well as keeping one foot in the past and the honoring the styles of stop-motion. Since I did my review Kubo and the Two Strings (back in 2016), I did see ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls (I saw Coraline when it came out in 2009) and I did quite enjoy them, adding to the studio’s collection of quality features.
This brings my review back to talking about Missing Link, the sixth and latest animated feature film from Laika Entertainment. Given the success of Kudo and the Two Strings, I was gleefully expecting the next film from Laika to go bigger and bolder, but I also knew that it would be sometime before the studio’s next release would be released (given the fact that the studio takes their time in crafting the feature a certain / different way than other animation studios do). So, time did pass by until I remember hearing about something Laika’s new film, tilting their sixth feature as the Missing Link. When the trailer dropped for movie, I was a bit surprised by it. Of course, it looked interesting, but it looked a bit more simplistic (story-wise) versus the epicenes of Kubo and the Two Strings. Still, I’m always a big fan of animated movies and it still had the Laika Entertainment’s brand on it, so I was definitely looking forward to seeing it. What did I think of it? Well, it was something that was quite enjoyable. While it does have some problems in its storytelling, Missing Link is still a charming and easygoing feature to digest that works within its simplistic nature. It’s not the best film put out by Laika Entertainment, but it still better than most non-powerhouse animated juggernaut studios motion picture endeavor (and that’s a really good thing).
Missing Link is directed by Chris Butler, whose previous works include as a storyboard artist for several animated projects like Tarzan 2, Corpse Bride, and The Tale of Despereaux as well as a director for Laika’s second animated film ParaNorman. Thus, given his animated background and his already established relationship with Laika, it seems like a suitable choice for the studio to pick Butler to direct the Missing Link as his sophomore film. To his credit, Butler feels right at home, making Missing Link feel like a quaint and charming animated endeavor that easily accessible to all ages (even the more younger “juice box” could appreciate this movie). It’s definitely a striking departure from a lot of previous Laika film endeavors (more on that below), but it’s something worth noting and caring about; finding Butler’s efforts capable of crafting (and shaping) Missing Link’s feature presentation.
Along with working as a director on the project, Butler also works on the film’s story / script handling, playing “double duty” on the film. To his credit, Butler manages to tell a streamlined story for all ages, toiling with the fun idea of making the feature’s journey playful and light by having the film’s main characters (i.e. Lionel, Mr. Link, and Adelina) have a colorful journey of witty banter and comradery; something akin to a “buddy comedy” tale. In addition, Butler gives Missing Link a healthy dose of timeless themes / messages for the feature, including the understanding acceptance (both in oneself and in another) and that bonds of friendship. More interesting, however, the film’s theme for the antagonist is quite poignant. While it’s not truly villainous or maleficent, but its about the fear of change and trying to keep the “old ways” preserved and not to allow “new ways” to influence the status quo of society. If one really looks at it… that’s kind of deep and could be seeing the ever changing of today’s society (i.e. those who embrace change and those who clinging to old ideas).
Also, I do have to praise Butler for keeping the same traditional trend of integrity of Laika Entertainment that the previous films were able to keep. What do I mean? Well, a lot of animated movies (more of the recent ones in the past ten or so years) usually try to entice or get viewer’s attention by adding a number of gimmick tricks, including numerous catch pop song (original and / or covers), flashy dance number sequences, and a plethora of pop-culture trends and references. While amusing (at certain times), it mostly distracts the feature in trying “cool and trending” with the latest reference of what’s popular and / or derivate animated movies altogether. Laika movies have been like that, following their own formula of children’s entertainment and Missing Link continues that trend…meaning no big / song dance number or know pop-reference to what’s trending on social media platform, which is definitely a good thing (considering that this movie takes place during the Victorian-era and not modern day).
Perhaps on the biggest highlight of the feature is definitely Missing Link’s overall presentation, which I have to say is beautifully rendered with some amazing amination. Of course, Laika’s signature styles of its stop-motion is at the forefront of the movie and definitely shows how much the studio has continued to enhance (or rather “evolve” in the Missing Link’s case) their craft. The end result is something nothing short of fantastic, showcasing some simple gorgeous and colorful animation that definitely has its own distinct look and feel in its variety of areas, including character designs, facial expression, and background settings. Thus, I really have to give credit to the movie’s art department and visual effects team (character sculpture models as well) for their great work in making Missing Link an absolutely beautiful animated film. Love or hate it….I don’t think anyone will disagree on that front. As a side-note, the film’s music, which was composed by Carter Burwell, is pretty good; accenting the feature’s sequences in a melodic way that neither overpower the scenes or underplays the film’s moments (be it big sequences or soft character dialogue ones).
Despite a lot of positives, I did have a few criticism remarks about Missing Link, which prevent the film reaching the same high-level caliber that previous Laika Entertainment movies have achieved. Perhaps the most notable that’s quite easy to point out is the simple fact the film’s narration is much more simplistic than a lot of the other Laika movies. While this is not necessary a terrible nor deplorable act, it’s one that simply comes as duality from the Laika and the quality of storytelling that the studio has maintained. Granted, the story told in Missing Link is gentle, favorable, and easy to digest in all the right ways in viewing an animated cinematic tale, but the movie’s narrative lacks the complexity / sophisticated story that’s made the studio famous from its competition. This, of course, is realized in coming off the crowd-pleasing success of Kubo and the Two Strings, which had a more grandeur / epic story to tell in comparison. Maybe expectations were high because of praise from Kubo, which set the bar even higher for the Missing Link’s release. Again, I’m not say that Missing Link has a poor story, but its simple and very straight forward and it just seems like a small step back from what Laika’s masterful storytelling is known for
Coinciding with that notion, another major problem I felt was scant the story’s plot and journey throughout the runtime. As mentioned before, the feature certainly does a have breezy feel to it as it zips along its 95-minute runtime at brisk pace. However, I felt that the film (as a whole) could’ve been easily expanded upon as their several moments during the second act that could’ve been explored. This is especially made clear with the main trio of characters and the journey to find Shangri-La in the Himalayan Mountains and the journey in getting to that particular destination. There could’ve been so much more that Butler could explored (one or two side-adventures in the USA or in Europe’s ports of call) to flesh out some character-build moments. I’m not saying that it needed to be expanded to a two-hour feature, but maybe an extra ten minutes would’ve been beneficial for the story and one particular character (I’ll mention that one below). Thus, the story is pretty straightforward and a thin plot doesn’t help.
Much like all the previous Laika movies that come before, Missing Link cast several recognizable actors and actresses in order to lend the voices to the film’s respective characters. These voice talents all good great work across the board and compliment their animated characters beautifully. At the head of the charge is the film’s main trio of characters, consisting of the characters of Sir Lionel Frost, Mr. Link / Susan, and Adelina Fortnight. If the film had a true main character…. I would say that is the character of Lionel Frost, who is voiced by actor Hugh Jackman (Logan and The Greatest Showman). Jackman definitely has a gifted on-screen stage presence as well as a great thespian sounding voice, which pitch perfect exact for the character of Lionel; a British gentleman of society who seeks to prove his worth. The character is one of commonly known character traits that usually accompany a classic hero’s journey, so his build isn’t exactly new, but it definitely works for what Missing Link requires. Thus, Jackman is great as Lionel Frost, executing his dialogue lines with perfection of both “upper crust” man of dignity and honor as well delivering some amusing lines.
Behind Jackman’s Lionel Frost is the character of Mr. Link / bigfoot (or simply by the name “Susan”), who is played by comedian actor Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover and The LEGO Batman Movie). Much like the character of Lionel Frost, the character journey for Mr. Link is commonplace in traditional storytelling, so it isn’t exactly truly groundbreaking when the feature makes the character confront new challenges or revelations. However, Mr. Link is quite an amusing character by having a massive size and stature body frame, but has more of gentle and child-like innocence, which produces some of the movie’s biggest laughs and heartfelt ones as well. Adding to that, Galifianakis gives that persona quite respectable, which isn’t exactly a stretch for the comedian actor, able to give Mr. Link a youthful / naïve quality that makes quite endearing throughout.
The only character that I felt was the weakest one was the third member of the main trio protagonist group, which is the character of Adelina Fortnight (a fierce yet free-spirited and conscientious adventurer, and Frost’s former girlfriend) and is played by actress Zoe Saldana (Avatar and Guardians of the Galaxy). The problem is the character feels very much like a “third wheel” in the party, with Mr. Link / Susan and Frost acting as the typical “buddy comedy” road trip nuances, Adelina just feels out of place and less than develop beyond her initial set-up. Saldana’s voice is perfect in the role and she certainly does elevate the character beyond a weak character build…. I just wish that the character of Adelina Fortnight was more well-rounded (as the potential for so much more is there), but just simply wasted. This is what I mean when the film’s story could’ve been easily expanded upon in order to make Adelina’s character to be more well-rounded and meatier.
In the villain category, actor Stephen Fry (Gosford Park and V for Vendetta) as prideful / snobbish head of the Adventure Society of “Great Men” Lord Piggot-Dunceby. While the character build is somewhat simplistic (much like the rest of the movie), the villainy behind Dunceby is palpable (i.e. fearing change and seeking to keep everything “status quo” of the old world). Plus, Fry’s voice matches perfect with the on-screen visual representation of the character, making Lord Piggot-Dunceby not so much force to be reckoned with, but should be feared due to his position of power and his small-minded fears of change, which can be extrapolated into today’s society in whatever shape or form you can imagine it to be.
Rounding out the cast are several supporting characters, including actor Timothy Olyphant (Justified and Deadwood) as the bloodthirsty bounty hunter Willard Stenk, actor Matt Lucas (Little Britain and Doctor Who) as Lord Piggot-Dunceby’s right-hand man Mr. Collick, actress Amrita Acharia (Game of Thrones and Welcome to Curiosity) as the Himalayan mountain guide Ama Lahuma, and actress Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks and Sense and Sensibility) as the unnamed Yeti leader. Collectively, these voice talents make-up the support players of Missing Link and, while some large roles than others, their vocal efforts are effectively solid to bring good performances respectfully.
In search of discovery and of acceptance by his peers, Sir Lionel Frost sets off journey with the legendary Bigfoot / sasquatch being to find him a new home in the movie Missing Link. Director Chris Butler latest film sees the sixth Laika film going for a more gentle and easygoing way in providing a more kid-friendly animated adventure for the whole family to watch. While the movie is stripped down to a more simplistic nature and could’ve been easily expanded its narrative (in both longer and complex ways), the truth is that movie still comes out on top with its universal story of acceptance and friendship from those who different, its solid voice talents, beautifully stunning animation, and the continued / enduring integrity of Laika Entertainment. Personally, I liked this movie. While I think it’s one of the weaker entries from stop-motion animated studio that doesn’t mean that its joy to watch and just something beautifully to behold. However, to be honest, I think its better than some other animated movies that have come from non-major studios (and that’s really say something about Laika’s movies). Thus, my recommendation for the film is a definite “recommended” as it has something for everyone and is a quaint children’s movie for all ages. Only time will tell of what and when the seventh feature film from Laika Entertainment will emerge. For now, the Missing Link represents another solid entry from the one of the leading stop-motion animation studios in current Hollywood, showcasing respectable storytelling and quality animation styles over pop-culture references and quick “cash and grab” gimmicky premises.
3.8 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: April 12th, 2019
Reviewed On: April 23rd, 2019
Missing Link is 94 minutes long and is rated PG for action / peril and some mild rude humor