It’s rare that a studio puts as much love and care into each film they make as Laika. In ten years they’ve released five films, each lovingly crafted and infused with an oddball charm that distinguishes them from other family friendly films. Yet their particular brand of quirkiness can sometimes be a bit off-putting, making it hard to fully connect with the story. Luckily, Missing Link is their most accessible film to date, combining Laika’s trademark aesthetic with a swashbuckling sense of adventure.
Missing Link follows Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) a wealthy adventurer who seeks out supposedly mythical creatures like the Loch Ness monster. Offered the chance to prove his worth by finding the legendary Sasquatch, Frost sets out on a journey to the fabled Shangri-La, hindered by his rivals in London, who are willing to do anything to stop him.
Spanning from the New World of America to the frozen peaks of the Himalayas, the film calls to mind a bygone era of action-adventure flicks epitomised by the Indiana Jones films (there’s even a nice reference to that franchise during the travelling scenes). In particular, the set-pieces feature the same imaginative combination of slapstick humour and genuinely wince-inducing impacts, creating some utterly thrilling action scenes that should entertain adults and children alike.
The wide range of locations also allows the animation team to really stretch their artistic muscles, resulting in this being the most attractive of Laika’s unfailingly beautiful films. By now they’re so experienced in the field of stop-motion that the characters movements are as fluid as any CGI-creation, without losing that sense of tangibility that makes stop-motion so appealing in the first place. The colour palette is also wonderful, from the blue-green hues of the Pacific-Northwest to the monochromatic chequers of a London gentleman’s club. Even the small details, like a little clump of snow tumbling down a hill or a bead of sweat trickling down a man’s face are so brilliantly realised that it’s hard not to be seduced by the gorgeous world of Missing Link.
If there’s one area Laika could improve, it’s their scriptwriting. Missing Link is written by Chris Butler, but it’s clear his true skill lies in directing. Whilst Hugh Jackman and Zoe Saldana are able to make the romantic dialogue crackle with tension and wit, much of the humour revolves around the missing link. Unfortunately, these stretches are the weakest of the bunch, and the decision to leave long pauses after many of them brings the film to an awkward, shuddering halt. It’s the cinematic equivalent of having to explain a bad punchline, and even Galifianakis’s fine vocal work as the link can’t rescue them.
Nevertheless, Missing Link is that rarest of beasts: a crowd-pleasing adventure romp with genuine thought and affection put into it.
Image: John Bauld via Wikimedia Commons