Review: Missing Link (2019)

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Trust me, I’m an explorer: Annapurna Pictures/Laika Entertainment

By Laika’s incredibly high standards, MISSING LINK isn’t quite up there. Saying that, even bottom-drawer Laika is still top-drawer animation, so there’s still plenty to recommend here.

In an effort to prove himself to a stuck-up explorers’ society, noted man of action Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) journeys to discover the mythical Sasquatch. He only goes and does it, meeting and befriending “Susan” (Zach Galifianakis) and agreeing to guide him to find his Yeti relatives in the Himalayas. With the help of the headstrong widow of a former partner (Zoe Saldana) Sir Lionel and Susan embark on their great quest…

This feels like a movie from another time, like a tale of derring-do on an ambitious scale that a John Huston or a Michael Curtiz might have made half a century ago. It’s an adventure movie and a movie that visits far off and exotic locales and throws our heroes from one mighty challenge to the next. To be honest I thought it was really missing an old-timey “you have been watching” credits sequence at the end.

The level of detail in the far-ranging environments and the animal inhabitants of this world is awe-inspiring. This is a new high-point for combining stop-motion animated characters with CGI effects. From a mud-splattered Victorian London to the American dusty Old West, lush Indian forests and icy Nepal, every location is vivid and eye-catching. We’re only in some of these places for a matter of seconds as part of a traveling montage (months in a stop-motion animator’s life) so it’s a testament to the level of craft on show that we get an immediate feel for them through efficient visual communication.

The scene on the ship tossing and turning in a raging storm eclipses all others in the film by quite a way. The plane of action is inverted again and again and corridors, doors and portholes become unexpected avenues for creative, funny action, like the zero-g hotel fight in INCEPTION only with a funny bone and a clumsy ape-man who refuses to keep his trousers instead of a sharply-suited Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

It could have been darker. It’s the only Laika film thus far without actual, implied or attempted child murder. That’s only because aren’t any children in Missing Link, which is a bit messed up if you think about it. We all know the Victorians liked killing and stuffing new and interesting species, planting flags in countries that weren’t theirs and generally ruining the world in the name of progress, so I think they could have made the villains (Stephen Fry and Timothy Olyphant) properly nasty. Snobbery, pettiness and cheating to win wagers doesn’t really compare to Laika’s previous rogues gallery of child-killers, celestial enslavers and proponents of genocide to earn fancy headwear.

The script could have also been sharper and funnier. Jackman and Galifianakis and later Saldana make an appealing group to spend time with and do their best with the material, but the running gag of a character taking everything completely literally got old pretty fast in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and that goes double here. Susan’s size, shape and capacity to make noise no matter how hard he tries not to admittedly yields a few giggles.

Missing Link is sorely missing that twisted edge of earlier Laika films, but it’s got a personality all of its own and is probably the best-looking film the Oregon-based animators have ever produced. Definitely worth a watch, and if it’s still in a cinema near you please see it there so Laika can carry on making many more twisted dreams. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Bong Joon-ho, Danny Boyle, the Coen Brothers, Nicolas Winding Refn, Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Taika Waititi and Edgar Wright. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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