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Missing Link is A Funny, Bright Success for Laika

“Your world grows bigger, mine gets eaten away”

– Mr. Link/Susan

A quick glance at the cast and crew behind Missing Link immediately showed great potential for success. They had me at Zach Galifianakis playing a Sasquatch. It was made by Laika, known for its enchanting blend of stop motion capture and computer animation. Annapurna, the production company behind Sausage Party but which is better known for backing critical favorites such as Phantom Thread and If Beale Street Could Talk, was the co-producer. This film was right up my alley, and it fulfilled any expectations I had, although they were seriously dampened after such a difficult first week at the box office.

Laika did exactly what you’d expect from the studio: they created beautiful worlds mixing reality and fantasy as much as they mixed the animation styles. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. In most stop-motion films, the movement comes from the characters with a static background around them. But thanks to clever filming techniques that must have used some CGI, a lot of the action involved the characters reacting to moving scenery. For example, there was a chase scene that takes place on a boat which moves every direction over waves, and the characters have to run upside down and on the sides of walls as it turns, reminiscent of that Inception scene, except with a giant Sasquatch in place of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

The missing link aspect of the film, while brought front and center in the film’s title, was not more than a minor component with some clever references for the observant viewers. The theme was more about evolution in a conceptual sense, and the fact that we are all still evolving as human beings and all have room to learn and grow as better people. I did enjoy the references to huge breakthroughs in evolutionary science, such as a dodo bird in Frost’s office and Frost’s trilobite necklace.

The main four voice actors (Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, Zoe Saldana, and Stephen Fry) fit their characters perfectly, and their development was dynamic without appearing forced. The rapport built between Mr. Link/Susan and Frost felt genuine, and a lot of the comedy came from their occasionally strained interactions. Frost relied heavily on idioms and expressions that Susan took too literally to humorous results. I could watch another full movie of Frost and Susan adventures. There were also plenty of gags explicitly meant for the adults watching, like increasingly damning headlines that Susan had read regarding Frost’s sordid past, and even a toilet-humor joke that a kid in the theater needed his dad to explain.

It’s tough to find parts of Missing Link to seriously criticize. The film ends with only one character being redeemed, and it would have been nice to have given other antagonistic characters the same opportunity. There’s also a blatantly impossible chain of events during the climactic escape which was so unrealistic that it took me out of the film. But it’s almost forgivable considering how stop motion was used to film it with giant set pieces.

I’m no marketing expert, but I do like to think about these things, especially when a movie fails in such spectacular fashion compared to expectations. For one thing, the trailers were awful. They should have showed off the stop motion aspect and the heart of the story more. It also was placed in a zone that would kill any movie’s box office chances: released with Hellboy, right after Shazam, and two weeks before Endgame. That’s a lot of consecutive weeks buying movie tickets for some parents.  

Missing Link deserves more, however. The animation style was amazing to watch, there is plenty of slyly adult humor, and the story was heartfelt with a positive message. If you are looking to see something good but don’t want to wait until Endgame on Friday, I think you’ll really enjoy it. At the very least, rent it once it (probably quite quickly, and maybe with a different name) comes to on demand.

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