Through Coraline and ParaNorman, Laika continued the tradition of creepy stop-motion features that started with The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride. The studio’s past three movies, however, have ventured into uncharted territory, demonstrating that stop-motion isn’t limited to the gothic and macabre. The Boxtrolls was a wickedly inventive comedy while Kubo and the Two Strings had the atmosphere of an anime. Their latest film, Missing Link, is an epic road trip adventure akin to Around the World in 80 Days. It once again goes to show that Laika is one of the most versatile names in modern animation and may even surpass Aardman in the stop-motion department.
Hugh Jackman provides the voice of Sir Lionel Frost, a paranormal investigator with the charisma and ego of Sherlock Holmes. Frost is determined to leave his mark by proving monsters walk among us, but the other explorers simply see him as a joke. Upon receiving a mysterious letter, Frost is led to a far-off land where he meets a genuine Sasquatch voiced by Zach Galifianakis. Frost cheekily names the creature Mr. Link, who expresses his desire to find a place he can call home. Mr. Link believes he belongs with a society of yetis that reside in the valley of Shangri-La.
Frost agrees to take Mr. Link to this lost horizon in exchange for evidence of his existence. Along the way, the odd couple are aided by a fellow adventure named Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), who has all the pluck of Marion Ravenwood. Actually, Missing Link is very much in the spirit of an Indiana Jones movie, as our heroes travel to several exotic locations via boat, train, and elephant. Hot on their trail is a bounty hunter (Timothy Olyphant) who wishes to make Mr. Link an extinct species. They’re also pursued by Stephen Fry as the pompous Lord Piggot-Dunceby, who’s even more resistant towards the theory of evolution than Ben Stein.
It’s hard to talk about Missing Link without bringing up Smallfoot, another animated feature about a Sasquatch who forms an unlikely bond with a human. Like Antz and A Bug’s Life, the similarities are evident, but the characters, styles, and tones make each film unique. While both are family pictures, Missing Link is perhaps geared more towards adult fans of animation than kids. The humor has a sophistication to it that’s very much in the spirit of the Road to… film series. Just imagine Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour filling the roles of Frost and Fortnight while Bob Hope dresses up as Bigfoot.
Being a Laika production, Missing Link is another visual wonder that leaves the audience in constant awe of its craft. The colorful environments, smooth movements, and flamboyant character designs are matched with a story that’s thoroughly fun from start to finish. When stacked up against the studio’s other works, the film lacks the emotional weight of Kobo or the unpredictability of ParaNorman. The villains are also fairly basic and the lessons learned, while meaningful, aren’t anything new either. Even if it’s not their best work, however, the film’s sense of humor and adventure evolve into an all-around satisfying journey.