Over the course of the last decade, LAIKA Studios has been turning heads in the world of animation while churning out a series of stop-motion films that both fans and critics have fallen in love with. From Coraline to Kubo and the Two Strings, LAIKA has made its mark as an inventive animation studio producing some of the most original films on the market. That trend continues with the studio's latest film, Missing Link.
Written and directed by Chris Butler (ParaNorman), Missing Link tells the story of an explorer named Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) who wants to prove to a prestigious adventurer's society that he is worthy of their ranks, though he's never exactly found proof of the mythical creatures he has encountered in his travels. To finally win over these other "great men," as he calls them, Frost sets out to America to find the so-called "Missing Link" and bring proof of its existence back to England. He does indeed find the beast, though it's not much of a beast at all. The mild-mannered Mr. Link (Zach Galifianakis) is the last of his kind, and he hopes an explorer as well-known as Frost can take him across the world to the Himalayas so that he can join his long-lost cousins, the Yeti.
Missing Link establishes itself as a visual spectacle right off the bat, with the first scene immediately exceeding any and all expectations you might have had about the animation going in. Lionel Frost spends the opening minutes in a tussle with the Loch Ness monster, trying hard, and ultimately failing, to snap its picture and prove its existence. Everything about this scene sets the tone for the gorgeously animated adventure that's to follow, as well as the delightfully off-beat humor that is packed into the movie.
The film will almost certainly make you laugh, no matter what age you are. There is a ton to love for both kids and adults, and a lot of its success rides on the earnest performances by its three leads. Jackman and Zoe Saldana are absolutely charming, bringing a realism to the characters that you wouldn't expect given the style of animation and stop-motion movements. As soon as they draw you in and have you hooked, Galifianakis comes in with a pitch-perfect one-liner that manages to land on its feet each and every time. With a great cast at his disposal, it's clear that Butler needs no help in the comedic timing department; he knows how to work the room.
There is no shortage of fun to be had with this movie, that's to be sure, but the overall plot does leave just a little to be desired, especially for the adults in the crowd. The entire third act of Missing Link, while there's nothing inherently wrong with it, tries desperately to teach lessons about friendship and humanity in the most obvious ways. Don't get me wrong, the movie still works, and the ending isn't bad, but the script chooses to go for the easy, glaringly obvious conclusions rather than bravely adventure into the unknown as the rest of the film does so well.
Even in the face of a slightly disappointing final act, it's hard not to totally adore Missing Link. This flick has charm for days, and you'll never get sick of looking at it. It may not reach the heights of Kubo and the Two Strings, but LAIKA once again earns its place alongside the best and most creative animation studios in the industry today, and I personally can't wait to see what's next.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Missing Link is currently playing in theaters.