LAIKA Studios is well known for delivering quality stop-motion
animation and top notch storytelling. If there is a common thread between the
films in the studio’s decade-long run, it’s their offbeat and outsider characters,
who search for a purpose and uncover a catalyst for change within themselves. With
varying degrees of narrative and character complexity, each film stands as a benchmark
thanks to the craft and care put in by the animators and storytellers. While
writer-director Chris Butler’s MISSING LINK is a tad slight when it comes to
narrative gravitas and character pathos, it’s ultimately entertaining,
humorous, light-hearted revelry.
Bumbling explorer Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman)
is on a quest to discover the world’s
mythical, one-of-a-kind creatures. But so far, his attempts to capture evidence
of these legendary beasts have been fruitless. It’s led him on a globe-trotting
adventure into dangerous circumstances, like the precarious position his former
assistant found himself in with the Loch Ness Monster. Frost covets membership in
an elite explorer’s club, but they don’t exactly welcome him into their ranks –
and their leader Lord Piggot-Dunceb (voiced by Stephen Fry) is determined to
keep him out.
The pair make a wager: If Frost can capture the elusive
Bigfoot, he can finally gain entrance into the explorer’s society. It’s not
long before Frost finds what he’s been searching for deep in the remote forests
of the Pacific Northwest: Mr. Link (voiced by Zach Galifianakis). But what
Frost didn’t know is that this gigantic, hairy orange sasquatch talks and has a
very literal personality. Not only that, he’s lonely and yearns to find his fellow
mythical creatures, the Yetis, to see if they’ll accept him. “As your world
grows bigger, mine’s eaten away,” he sadly states.
Frost accepts his new pal’s desperate plea for help and sets
out on yet another quest. Along with a former friend’s feisty widow, Adelina
Fortnight (voiced by Zoe Saldana), Frost and the poorly-disguised Mr. Link set
out to uncover the secretive enclave of Shangri-La located in the frozen, treacherous
Himalayas. However, Dunceb is determined to make the journey harder and sends
ruthless hitman Willard Stenk (voiced by Timothy Olyphant) after Frost and
Butler’s film is a buddy comedy and road picture wrapped
into one, and it nails the tones of both perfectly. There are a few strong
comedy bits and shenanigans, seemingly influenced by classic comedy acts like
Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello, where the two banter about
misunderstandings. The duo’s aesthetics also heavily hint at that dynamic.
There are also fish out of water jokes Butler doesn’t leave unexplored,
particularly when it comes to how Mr. Link relates to other humans and their
world. There are no missteps when it comes to any of the comedic absurdity.
Plus, it’s a blessing that there’s also no damsel in distress. Adelina, though
she occasionally borders on a sassy Latina stereotype, is fiercely independent
and self-sufficient. Her goal isn’t to wind up in the arms of a man, but rather
to blaze her own trail, albeit with the research of her dead husband guiding
Resonant themes of selflessness all congeal in the third act
instead of being nimbly layered throughout. Although Frost’s character growth
is all about becoming a less selfish person, his realization he’s mistreated
people around him is rushed. Commentary on the small-mindedness of the old
school, upper-crust society is assuredly there, but is treaded upon a smidge
too lightly, despite the obsession to see evolutionary advancements disproven leading
to one character’s destruction.
The world Butler and company have built is thoroughly
impressive. The style and artistic panache they’ve created is entrancing and
enveloping. Character and costume design is expressive and tangible. Yet still,
we’re left longing for deeper thematic territory to be explored.