Missing Link (2019)

Meet Mr. Link

You wait for years for a good, family friendly, cryptid-themed animated film to come along, and then suddenly two show up at almost the same time. Only a little over six months ago we got treated to Warner Animation Group’s Smallfoot (2018), and now comes the response to that call in the form of Laika’s Missing Link.

Essentially a buddy comedy, Missing Link sees the titular character, a Sasquatch voiced by Zach Galifianakis, Puss in Boots (2011), reach out to failed adventurer and wannabe cryptozoologist Sir. Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman’s pipes) for some much-needed aide. The creature is the last of his kind and needs help getting to a hidden valley in the Himalayas where he hopes to find a distant branch of his furry family (yeti, of course).

‘Say chalk and cheese!’

For his part, Lionel wants glory and the respect of the Explorers’ Society in London — naturally, he will need to learn some lessons as things progress. And so the two set off for Link’s home in the Pacific Northwest. Standing in their way: bounty hunter Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant), hired by Lionel’s rival, Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry), to stop them by any means necessary. Reluctantly abetting them: Lionel’s sparky ex, Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana). Charming us: Laika’s delightfully handmade-looking stop-motion animation and a rather wonderful, whimsical rendition of a fantastical late 19th century.

Animation house Laika have form for this sort of thing — over the years they’ve given us the Neil Gaiman adaptation Coraline (2009), the bizarre fantasy The Boxtrolls (2014), the Japanese myth/ Beatles mash-up Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), and more. They’re the anti-Pixar in a way, doing smaller scale, decidedly offbeat movies that don’t seem to sacrifice idiosyncrasy for popularity (no disrespect to Pixar, but their broad popular appeal is very much down to always aiming for, well, broad popular appeal). So, an eccentric story about a gentle Bigfoot (who at one point chooses the name Susan for himself) and an ambitious, foolhardy monster hunter learning to get along is right up their alley.

… things are about to get hairy.

Yet there’s something missing. Kubo is the company’s masterpiece, and Missing Link doesn’t get within a parsec of that film’s thematic complexity and emotional resonance (take all the tissues to Kubo, folks). Indeed, the script by writer-director Chris Butler, ParaNorman (2012), seems a little undercooked, never strongly commenting on the colonialism that underpins its setting and story. All the pieces are there, but they never line up correctly. Similarly, ‘Susan’s’ status as the last of his kind never quite has the impact it should, and Lionel’s relationship with Adelina — a clear riff on Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood — fails to spark.

Missing Link’s aesthetic, however, is absolutely on point, and its carved-wood-looking characters and elaborate, exaggerated sets are worth staring at for days. The voice cast is all in top form, with Galifianakis’ amiable, innocent title character a standout. The pace rarely flags, so you won’t find yourself checking your watch. Still, even for an outfit with such limited output, this feels very much like mid-level Laika. Having said that, if this is what their median quality looks like, they’re punching well above their weight.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Travis Johnson

Missing Link is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia