Missing Link Review
Stop-motion animation studio Laika have released their 5th feature. Known for Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings, Missing Link is a very witty, wry look at British colonialism through the eyes of old sprawling adventure movies.
The Victorian explorer Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) is in search of mythical creatures and comes across a letter proving the existence of the Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis), the Missing Link himself. When Frost finds him, The Sasquatch decides upon the name of Susan, and goes on a quest with Sir Lionel to find Shangri-La to reunite with his Yeti cousins, led by Emma Thompson. Frost is only interested in one thing, he simply wants in on a member’s club run by Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry). Joining Sir Lionel and Susan on their quest is Frost’s ex-lover Adelina (Zoe Saldana) while in pursuit is bounty hunter Willard Stenk and soon after Piggot-Dunceby to ensure Sir Lionel Frost does not complete his expedition.
Laika are an awe inspiring company. One whose films marry state of the art computer imagery with traditional stop motion effects to stand out from the crowded animation pool. From their output so far, Paranorman sits at the top of the pile for me, so I was more than excited to get to see this one as the director of Paranorman Chris Butler wrote and directed Missing Link too.
Having seen this in the cinema opening weekend I was...disappointed. My kids, again big Laika fans were somewhat bored by the film, finding it ‘fine’ but nothing else. It seemed too ponderous for their palate, and rather mean spirited in places, and despite being incredibly colourful, the film felt somewhat drab.
Watching again on home format, the film works better. It's very Indiana Jones inspired, mixed with Around the World in 80 Days, and once you get your head around what it’s trying to achieve it hits a lot more of what it was trying to achieve. It’s still not in the same league as some of the other Laika films but it is bolstered by the very informative and incredibly likeable commentary by Director Chris Butler who talks of it also being influenced by David Lean and National Geographic Magazine. The short EPK featurettes on how they actually made the film show what a feat it must have been, but some of these featurettes are a bit too similar to make you think why didn’t they roll them into one another and make it less ‘bite sized’? But it’s great on the featurettes to see the animators ‘acting’ out the scenes to get the movement right in the film, and how all the layers come together to create the final product.
All of this however does make you wish the film was better than it ultimately is. The story doesn’t quite hit the heights that it should or could have. You want it to work better than it does. You are willing it to. There are some fantastic sequences. The boat sequence with Willard Stenk the bounty hunter voiced by Timothy Olyphant chasing after Sir Lionel down the corridors is a particularly ‘wow’ moment.
Some of the voice acting feels like they were almost after someone else, but couldn’t get them. Zoe Saldana sounds very much like Salma Hayek as Adelina in a very Hayek role, for example.
But I keep going back to how much work went into this film, and for that reason I cannot help but love a lot of it. The CGI and practical effects marrying harks back to what I love about both these disciplines when they are worked well together (I’m looking at you Jurassic Park) and the whole package of this bluray, with the commentary and the featurettes and the gorgeously realised Dolby Atmos track, and Carter Burrell’s beautiful score pushes it up a notch or two.
All in all Missing Link is missing something, but I can’t put my finger on what exactly that is. Perhaps as Butler puts in his commentary, perhaps it is too whimsical, too cerebral, and that it needed to have more chickens on heads, more poo jokes to actually make it the film it wishes it was, and I wish it was too.