Grade: B+/A-
Entire family: Yes
2019, 94 min., Color
Animation
Laika / 20th Century Fox
Rated PG for action peril and some mild rude humor
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos
Bonus features: B-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Code
Trailer
Amazon link

In announcing Missing Link at Cannes in 2018, the Laika animation CEO crowed, “Missing Link is an artistic and technical wonder. Led by our visionary director Chris Butler, Laika has once again blended fine art, craftsmanship, and cutting-edge technology to achieve something we’ve never tried before: a raucous comedy entwined with a swashbuckling epic, underscoring the universal need to find belonging.”

And for a change, it wasn’t just typical Hollywood hype. Missing Link is both visually stunning and richly imagined, and the quirky plot is powered by a blend of physical humor that children will appreciate, as well as allusions and verbal gags that are meant for the adults. But it’s also warm-hearted, with some positive messages embedded in the story. In other words, this a perfect choice for family home movie night—if, that is, your family likes stop-motion animation and the distinctively rendered characters, some of which have harsh angular or pointy features.

I’ll confess to not being a fan of stop-motion animation (often called “Claymation”), but the Laika group has created a film that’s as fluid looking as traditional animation. Producer Arianne Sutner (Kubo and the Two Strings) said in the 2018 announcement that they “created 110 sets with 65 unique locations to achieve the film’s scale, majesty, and geographic beauty.” And again, I couldn’t have described it better. The film includes their inventive takes on Victorian England, the American Old West, Old World Spain, the Tibetan Himalayas, and incredible variations of the natural world that lie in between. Missing Link is one of those films that just leaves you smiling or awestruck every time there’s a set change.

And that’s just the art design and animation. The plot itself may sound far-fetched, but you’re almost immediately sucked into the premise and the film quickly feels like a Crosby-Hope-Lamour road picture adventure, with flashback similarities to the animated Road to El Dorado, and Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire or Up. It’s a classic pursuit tale where the pursuers are also being pursued. 

The year is 1886. Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) is a rich man whose pursuit of mythical creatures stands in his way of accomplishing his dream: to become a member of a London adventurer’s club, a “society of great men.” One day, Frost receives a scrawled letter telling him Sasquatch exists and to meet the author of the note in America’s Pacific Northwest. There he finds Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis), who tells him he wrote the letter because Frost was the only one who would believe he existed and help him relocate to the Himalayas so he could be with his own kind. It’s lonely being the last of his species.

Frost dubs him “Mr. Link” and dresses him in human clothes to try to hide his fur, and they go into a Wild West saloon to test the costume. In short order, viewers are treated to an old-fashioned saloon brawl, magically animated. Then it’s on to Spain, where Frost seeks to obtain a map of the lost city of Shangri-La from an old deceased partner whose widow, Adelina (Zoe Saldana), happens to be an old girlfriend of his. She insists on joining them, and the classic road-picture trio takes shape.

While they’re seeking Shangri-La, an Old West gunman follows them, paid to kill Frost, who had persuaded Lord Piggot-Dunceby to allow him into the society of great men IF he returns with Sasquatch. With their dreams at odds, which one will win out? Mr. Link’s, or Frost’s? Will Adelina have something to say about it? Will gunslinger Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant) spoil everything? Can this group survive the Himalayas, much less each other?

Chris Butler brings a Disney level of character and heart to his animated film, with just enough music to reinforce the emotional connection. He also wrote the screenplay, which is full of clever lines, allusions, and laugh-out-loud moments. It’s a fun adventure that will surely merit repeat play.

Language: One punch-line usage of “bugger,” but everything else is a substitute swearword (like “fiddlesticks”)

Sex: In one very funny sequence as a character enters a frontier town a prostitute leaning out a window blows him a kiss, and then a male prisoner leaning out his cell window does the same; and then there’s just one instance of “plumber’s pants”

Violence: An old-fashioned Old West barfight breaks out, with punching and bottle smashing; a man is kicked in the crotch; and in a situation of extreme peril several bad guys fall to their deaths, though the most graphic thing is an implied impaling via icicle

Adult situations: Well, there is that Old West bar, though the main characters only drink tea, and with their pinky held high; there are also a lot of guns, though no one ever gets shot—only shot at

Takeaway: First Coraline, and now Missing Link . . . I actually can’t wait to see what Laika comes up with next

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