In a world in which an animated film based on a phone app gets a sequel, “Missing Link” is as rare and special as its gigantic hero: a sheepish Sasquatch who just wants to find a place where he can belong.
Zach Galifianakis voices the gentle giant Mr. Link who reaches out to explorer Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) for their mutual benefit, and somewhat muted hilarity ensues. The nattily dressed pair journey in search of Shangri-La for Link and glory for Frost, all in the stunning, mostly hand-made process of stop-motion animation studio Laika.
Frost is an explorer on the fringe of legitimacy who longs to prove to the world he’s worthy of acceptance into England’s elite explorer guild, Society of Great Men. The year is 1886, and the “great men” rail against outsiders, new discoveries, women and any other perceived threats to their supremacy. The discovery of an unspoiled hidden world populated with stronger, smarter creatures does not track with their goals, and their pompous leader, Lord Piggot-Dunceby (voiced by Stephen Fry), sets out to prevent Frost and Link from reaching their mythic destination.
“Missing Link” is the latest film from Laika, and their other films include “Coraline,” “The Boxtrolls,” “ParaNorman” and “Kubo and the Two Strings.” This most recent offering is brighter and simpler than their earlier works, and better for younger children. As such, it is does not feel as accomplished. “Coraline” is a classic and “Kubo and the Two Strings” is a masterpiece. “The Boxtrolls” is richly detailed and inventive and absurd.
“Missing Link” has fewer threads and ideas and themes at work than other Laika movies. It lacks the depth and emotional resonance, but it is also easier to understand and enjoy. Perhaps the goal was to expand their audience by making a more palatable film, but I think it lost some of what makes their films so memorable in the first place.
This film was by no means a failure, however. It is a charming adventure full of gorgeous visual moments and splendid settings. A journey by train is particularly lovely. Link lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and is himself fun to look at. He is huge and covered with leaf-like orange fur and is extremely loveable, and once he stuffs himself into a green suit, it is impossible not to be charmed. Likewise, Frost starts out as a man whose self-interest sees him using his assistant repeatedly as bait for the Loch Ness Monster, but ultimately, of course, grows into a more genuine person.
Zoe Saldana voices the widowed Adelina Fortnight, a former flame of Frost’s whose husband had the only map to Shangri-La. The adventurous trio is adorable and their wardrobe is particularly delightful. The plot was just rather simple. There could have been more jokes. This was a gentle journey with one destination, and when they reach it, the complications are still rather uncomplicated.
Truly though, the only way this film falls short is measured against the other Laika films, some of which are really too sad or scary or confusing for younger children. If you have been spoiled by the richness of their earlier films, “Missing Link” is a bit disappointing, but if you want a beautifully crafted, intelligent adventure for kids, this is still that. It will be interesting to see where Laika goes from here, and it should still prove to be better than 99 percent of what is out there.
“Missing Link” is currently available to rent.
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