'Missing Link': Film Review

Something is truly amiss.
4/11/2019

Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis and Zoe Saldana lead the voice cast in the Laika animated adventure.

Ever since it first arrived on the scene with 2009’s Coraline, Laika has been shown considerable love by those taken with the outfit’s irresistible combination of eye-catching, state-of-the-art stop-motion animation and innovative, imaginative storytelling.

That brand affection will likely be put to the test with the studio’s fifth release, Missing Link, a globe-trotting Victorian-era adventure that, while often a magnificent sight to behold, never goes the distance in terms of engaging characters and involving plotting. Additionally frustrating matters is the artistic decision to combine the heavily stylized humans and animals with photo-real elements like fabrics and weaponry, which, while making a bold statement, can also be jarringly distracting. The end result, especially coming after 2016’s highly rewarding Kubo and the Two Strings, can’t help but feel like a letdown.

Released by Annapurna Pictures, which takes over Laika distribution reins from Focus Features, the excursion will be counting on getting a piece of spring break action, wedged in between Disney's Dumbo and Penguins, to reap its uncertain box office rewards.

Described by writer-director Chris Butler as “if David Lean directed Around the World in 80 Days starring Laurel & Hardy,” the story concerns the efforts of the dashing Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman), a rather smug adventurer skilled in the investigation of myths and monsters, to create a lasting legacy. He believes he may finally gain entry into the snooty Optimates Club when he receives word of the existence of the elusive Sasquatch residing deep in the forests of America's Pacific Northwest.

Turns out he was alerted to the mythical creature by the creature himself (an affable Zack Galifianakis), an understandably sheltered, somewhat neurotic and surprisingly articulate individual who has a proposition for the explorer: In exchange for providing him with proof of his existence, the lonely Mr. Link will be chaperoned to the fabled Shangri-La nestled in the Himalayas, where he’s hoping to find love and support among his distant relatives, the Yeti. Joining them on their expedition is the feisty Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), an angular Gibson Girl of a former flame of Frost’s who’s in possession of the only map that will take them to their destination.

As choreographed by Butler, who wrote and co-directed Laika’s ParaNorman, it’s a journey of self-acceptance that feels like a dictated lesson learned rather than a poignant one earned — one which mechanically travels from point to point without ever building emotionally.

Problematic, too, is a dryly British comedic sense that finds Mr. Link sharing with Paddington Bear a very literal-leaning sense of humor that can make following simple instructions at times calamitous. But there’s a hit-and-miss quality to the antics here that often land with a thud.

One wishes the script might have shared the degree of precision that has obviously been applied to the technical side of the production, which is resplendent in visual dazzle from the smallest beads of sweat on a character’s forehead to the vintage knit fabrics to those sprawling exotic vistas.

Incorporating a new color 3D printing technology allowing for the creation of complete individual animated facial performances instead of the interchangeable face kits used previously for their stop-motion characters, the production exhibits intriguing possibilities despite a few glaringly CG patches, especially when depicted in close-up.

But while the energetic cast, which includes Emma Thompson as a less-than-hospitable Yeti leader known as The Elder, gamely play their parts, Missing Link ultimately fails to make a credible connection.

Production companies: Laika, Annapurna Pictures
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, Zoe Saldana, Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Timothy Olyphant, Matt Lucas, Amrita Acharia, David Walliams, Ching Valdes-Aran
Director-screenwriter: Chris Butler
Producers: Arianne Sutner, Travis Knight
Director of photography: Chris Peterson
Production designer: Nelson Lowry
Costume designer: Deborah Cook
Editor: Stephen Perkins
Music: Carter Burwell

Rated PG, 94 minutes