Those looking for proof of cinematic evolution should look no further than Missing Link. Laika’s latest animation is an absolute delight, not simply because it’s crafted with exquisite attention to detail, but because the storytelling is so seamless and compelling that viewers are able to forget the artifice entirely.
Chris Butler’s stop-motion buddy movie follows the adventures of explorer Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) after he is recruited by the legendary Bigfoot, who is, rather conveniently, just the fellow he is looking to find. The desperately lonely Mr Link (Zach Galifianakis) wishes to seek out his Himalayan cousins, the yetis, and Sir Lionel – who thinks proving the existence of the Sasquatch will win him acceptance amongst the social elite – is all too willing to oblige. However, there are those who fear the exposure of the relationship between man and monkey, and our travellers – along with Lionel’s ex-lover Adalena (Zoe Saldana) – find themselves facing some unwanted companions, and even more unwelcome truths.
Having written and directed 2012 hit ParaNorman as well as co-writing the screenplay for critically acclaimed Kubo and the Two Strings in 2016 (both nominated for Academy Awards), storyboard artist Chris Butler has set a high bar for himself. But while his latest offering is lighter in tone than these tales of death and vengeful spirits, and consequently doesn’t hit quite as hard, the film is just as deft and delicate in its delivery of a pertinent, pointed message. In an era that increasingly fears the unknown, this upbeat, family friendly fantasy tale reminds us that belonging is not about being the same but accepting and celebrating our differences.
It’s fitting, then, that the two protagonists are worlds apart. While Jackman carries his character’s Etonian arrogance with charismatic charm, slowly revealing the sensitive underside to his suave, self-assured facade, Zack Galifianakis counterbalances him perfectly as the endearingly literal and not-quite-so-literate Sasquatch, harnessing the humour of naivety. Saldana, too, puts in a great performance as Lionel’s long-suffering yet short-tempered moral compass. A host of big names make the credits, but the real star of the show is the script. Wonderfully witty, it beautifully hypothesises how our sarcasm and mannerisms might come across to any logical outsider that makes the mistake of assuming we actually say what we mean. Indeed, beneath its bright veneer, the film delights in poking fun at the ignorant superiority complex on which the colonial delusion that the wider world needs to be “civilised” was founded. As Emma Thompson’s Yeti queen aptly translates for us in a painfully funny line: “It means go away, we don’t want you here”.
And one can see why they don’t want the explorers traipsing in in their muddy boots, for the world Laika has created is truly idyllic. Two years – and 91 separate sets – in the making, the feature is worth every second of its production time. Stop-motion and CGI blend to capture colourful, mystical, mesmerising scenes of lush green jungles and snow-capped mountains. Every frame is executed to perfection, small visual jokes woven beautifully into scenes and left to be uncovered from one viewing to the next.
Missing Link is evidence of the sheer scope of animation: a vibrant, imaginative and heartwarming tale that will leave an imprint as large as that of Bigfoot himself.
Missing Link is released nationwide on 5th April 2019.
Watch the trailer for Missing Link here: