REVIEW: Missing Link [2019]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: PG | Runtime: 95 minutes | Release Date: April 12th, 2019 (USA)
Studio: Laika Entertainment / Annapurna Pictures / United Artists Releasing
Director(s): Chris Butler
Writer(s): Chris Butler

“What chicken?”

With Laika CEO Travis Knight branching out to live-action on Bumblebee, it was only right that Chris Butler would carry the studio’s fifth feature film after the ambitious undertaking that was Kubo and the Two Strings (which the former directed and the latter co-wrote). Missing Link also becomes Butler’s follow-up to ParaNorman—my personal favorite from the stop-motion firm—and similarly stars a character that believes in what no one else does. Whereas Norman was sympathetic in his ability to speak with ghosts, Sir Lionel Frost’s (Hugh Jackman) quest to discover creatures from myth serves to prove the opposite. Despite finding the Loch Ness Monster in the opening scene with nary a glimpse of fear, his holier-than-thou attitude actually makes us revel in his failure to secure proof.

So rather than acquire an unlikely bunch of acquaintances to combat a force of evil within a non-stop series of set pieces that excite, entertain, and thrill while proving Norman a hero, Frost is forced to confront the reality that he’s anything but. He can’t altruistically seek legends for the sake of science because the allure of fame is too great to afford an opportunity for anything but that selfishly motivated reward. Not only would real evidence make him the toast of the town in the public’s eye, it might just get his foot in the door of an aging society of adventurers that sees him as an unworthy crackpot. Sir Lionel is desperate to have his picture hung beside the greats and Sasquatch provides his best chance.

Bigfoot isn’t quite what he thought, however. He is real—much to the chagrin of that aforementioned society’s dinosaur of a gatekeeper whose archaic notions prove him just as egocentric as Frost (Stephen Fry‘s Lord Piggot-Dunceby)—but he’s hardly a savage. By contrast the soon-to-be-named Mr. Link (Zach Galifianakis) is a soft-spoken soul (Why wouldn’t he know English?) who no longer wants to live alone. Instead of needing to subdue him to acquire biological evidence, Sir Lionel therefore finds himself striking a deal. He will help Mr. Link travel from North America to the Himalayas in search of his long-lost cousins the Yeti in return for hair, nail, and fecal samples upon completion of their journey. If adventure is the price of achieving his goal, so be it.

To accomplish this means visiting an old friend in Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana). Her late-husband was said to have found the famed Shangri-La (the Yeti’s home), drawing a map kept hidden away. Frost believes he can procure it with charm, but anyone who knows him knows his charm is a con. So the duo becomes a trio with Mr. Link dressed as a human to keep a low profile (regardless of the fur) and Adelina holding Frost in check. And hot on their tail is Piggot-Dunceby’s hired gun (Timothy Olyphant‘s Willard Stenk), tasked to ensure news of Sir Lionel’s finding never makes it to light. Because if anyone is allowed to change the world with such a bold revelation, Piggot-Dunceby will never give his insolent foe the pleasure.

Away they go across the Atlantic to Europe and ultimately Asia with some of the most gorgeous sets Laika has ever produced. There’s a brilliant scene on the ocean as the ship tilts and turns upon the waves so a running Frost and Stenk must literally hop onto confused heads popping out of doorframes to go with a fun bar-fight where Mr. Link’s strength and geniality can collide to great comedic effect. While these adrenaline rush moments are fantastic, however, they are few and far between. Making this a strict cat and mouse chase means the filmmakers’ hands are tied when it comes to true spontaneity. This means ample down time between battles to absorb the production design’s austere glory and little danger when those battles do commence.

The result is a subdued affair with plenty of wordplay and relationship dynamics in lieu of wildly choreographed action sequences. Missing Link becomes less about mission success than opening Frost’s eyes to the reason why he too is alone. Mr. Link is thus a mirror, but one whose loneliness isn’t of his own making as opposed to Sir Lionel’s penchant to push those who would willingly stick by his side away due to a stubborn desire to care about nobody and prove his detractors wrong. The former yearns to become a part of a community while the latter seeks to rule one. Frost is always so intent on making good by his word that he’s never allowed himself to trust another like he demands everyone else trust him.

With less excitement comes less bombast—something you should know going in. I personally like that Laika is willing to work in different genres and now at vastly different paces too. The character design should be playful enough to keep young children’s attention, but don’t be surprised if they get lost within those lulls and ultimately can’t return once the action ramps up again. The studio has always exceled in its fearless ability to have a subtle touch, but this is the first time they’ve relied upon it as more than added weight. This is an introspective journey where the real fireworks are going off behind characters’ eyes instead of the onscreen fights. When Frost and Stenk come together, their bouts are less about progress than punctuation.

Sir Lionel is his own worst enemy. Mr. Link and Adelina are thus supportive pawns with Piggot-Dunceby and Stenk serving as blockades. They are the good angels and bad demons on his shoulders that show Frost what compassion and empathy means opposite the sort of callous hubris his current trajectory is leading him respectively. He has the potential to be amazed at what secrets he can uncover like Mr. Link is with every new experience his isolation couldn’t provided and the certainty to grow jaded and entitled while following in the footsteps of men refusing to evolve. There’s some patriarchal commentary in regards to ownership (of property, lives, and information) that doesn’t quite pop, but Frost’s inevitable awakening towards inclusion above exclusion drives the point home nonetheless.


photography:
[1] (L to R) Sir Lionel Frost voiced by Hugh Jackman, Mr. Link voiced by Zach Galifianakis and Adelina Fortnight voiced by Zoe Saldana in director Chris Butler’s MISSING LINK, a Laika Studios Production and Annapurna Pictures release. Credit : Laika Studios / Annapurna Pictures
[2] Mr. Link voiced by Zach Galifianakis in director Chris Butler’s MISSING LINK, a Laika Studios Production and Annapurna Pictures release. Credit : Laika Studios / Annapurna Pictures
[3] Sir Lionel Frost (left) voiced by Hugh Jackman and Mr. Link (right) voiced by Zach Galifianakis in director Chris Butler’s MISSING LINK, a Laika Studios Production and Annapurna Pictures release. Credit : Laika Studios / Annapurna Pictures

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