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Missing Link
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by Jay Seaver

"Charming, beautiful, just generally well-done."
4 stars

There were only a handful of people in the theater for a 3D screening of "Missing Link" on a Sunday evening two days after it opened, and while there are potential reasons for sparse attendance in the description, I'm starting to wonder what more Laika has to do to get people to come out for their movies. "Missing Link" is, as is customary with this company's productions, whimsically designed, big-hearted, impeccably voiced, precisely and beautifully filmed one frame at a time, and just generally everything one might wish a movie for the whole family to be. What else do these guys have to do?

Admittedly, there are ways in which one can understand some skepticism. As much as one almost cannot help but be impressed by the sheer labor-intensive nature of shooting a stop-motion feature, the result often lacks the smooth, friendly looks of digital or hand-drawn animation (at least that made with kids in mind); these movies often have the vibe of weird nineteenth-century toys come to life. And Laika has never made it particularly easy to get past that; their design sense has often been eccentric at the very least and often unnerving: Breakout picture Coraline is unabashedly creepy at points, and while most recent film Kubo and the Two Strings is in many ways an astonishing achievement, its ambition and oddity are, perhaps, more than many in the audience were prepared for.

In many ways, this movie is a bit of a reaction to that. The story is relatively straightforward - would-be late-1800s explorer Sir Lionel Frost (voice of Hugh Jackman) aims to make his mark on the world by making great discoveries in the field of cryptozoology, but his recklessness and questionable priorities have made him a laughingstock among the circles he wishes to join. A letter he received from Washington State hinting at a chance to find a sasquatch may be his last chance. It's not what he thinks, though - the ape-man (voice of Zach Galifianakis) sent Frost the letter himself, hoping the explorer could guide him to what he presumes are his yeti cousins in the Himalayas, so he would no longer be alone. Two issues with that: First, the only map to Shangri-La is in the hands of Adelina Fortnight (voice of Zoe Saldana), a young widow still angry at Frost over past encounters, while Lord Piggot-Dunceby (voice of Stephen Fry), head of the exclusive club to which Frost is seeking admission, has hired an American gunslinger named Stenk (voice of Timothy Olyphant), to see that no evidence of this evolutionary intermediate ever comes to light.

So it's a road movie, and a charming one that hits a fair amount of expected but no less entertaining marks: Frost and "Mister Link" make a stop in one of those western bars that at one point existed just for fights to break out but now exist to be part of bits where one raises an eyebrow about how a fight inevitably breaks out, for instance. There's an innocent sort of banter between Link and Frost, as the self-taught sasquatch doesn't really understand sarcasm or irony at first and Frost is the sort of Victorian not always inclined to speak directly. The lessons to be learned are clear and occasionally hammered home, but it is a film for kids (albeit one where the adults watching could probably use a reminder of its messages as well). It's straightforward almost to a fault, as it actually underplays the occasional moment that seems like it should be surprising.

The voice cast is pretty terrific, led by Hugh Jackman capturing the sort of ego minus any actual malice that animates Frost, happily leaning into his worst instincts at times while the animators manage to give their puppet just the right amount of disdain for what counts as science and conservation at the time. The light pomposity plays well against the simple sweetness Zach Galifianakis gives Link, or the fiery-but-sensible beats Zoe Saldana hits as Adelina. Some other bits of casting are obvious but still delightful - Stephen Fry as a blustering English aristocrat, Timothy Olyphant as a deranged gunman, and a late-arriving Emma Thompson reminding audiences that she can weaponize her classiness for comedy when she so chooses.

And, of course, nobody currently scores higher in terms of "just look at this!" than Laika does, and this is one of their more stunning films. Though some designs are a bit more exaggerated than the mainstream (Frost's big, pointy nose, for instance), this may be one of their most colorful and friendly-looking movies, with the animation incredibly smooth and detailed - if anything ever seems off, it's the occasional bits of CGI used on mouths and faces. Jokes are hidden in almost every corner, and sometimes right up front, when Link's gait matches the most famous Bigfoot video, and there are some downright thrilling action scenes, including an amazing chase through a rocking sea vessel that isn't even the climax. It's also absolutely a movie worth the extra few bucks to see in 3D, not just for the exaggerated sense of depth that shooting scale models with normal-sized cameras offers, but for how it's consciously manipulated, as the opening scenes seem noticeably flatter than the rest of the movie. The world seems bigger and deeper when you're seeing it with a friend.

Chances to see it that way won't last long; a Marvel behemoth will soon take most of the screens capable of showing it that way and the studio struggles to attract an audience, even if this may actually be their most broadly-appealing movie movie yet, from start to the almost annoyingly-catchy song that plays over the end credits. It's not quite perfect, but it's fun, earnest, and eye-popping. That should be enough for just about everyone.

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originally posted: 04/17/19 12:47:39
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User Comments

4/12/19 Bob Dog This movie does have a lot of charm but oddly it is irritating at the same time. 1 stars
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  12-Apr-2019 (PG)
  DVD: 23-Jul-2019


  DVD: 23-Jul-2019

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