Director: Chris Butler
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, Timothy Olyphant
Watch Missing Link online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
The Golden Globes got it right for once by giving 2020’s Best Animated Feature Film award to Missing Link, the latest, most unfairly under-appreciated outing from the American stop-motion company Laika. Best known for telling vivid, unexpected stories about outsiders in spooky family fare such as Paranorman and The Boxtrolls, they’ve turned their knack for off-kilter family entertainment to an Indiana Jones-style adventure about outsiders instead.
Our part-Indy, part-Newt Scamander stand-in is Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman), an adventurer whose dearest wish is to join his peers in the Optimates Club for “Great Men”. Setting a wager with the club’s venal head honcho Lord Piggot Dunceby (Stephen Fry), Lionel answers a call to find the last Sasquatch, whom he calls Mr Link (Zach Galifianakis), but winds up tangling with an old flame (Zoe Saldana) and a tenacious assassin (Timothy Olyphant), as man and missing link embark on a perilous journey to discover a lost world in the Himalayas.
For many, Aardman seems to be the first and last word in stop-motion animation, and from Chicken Run up to 2019’s Farmageddon, they’ve firmly staked out their niche of quintessentially British comedy capers. As the next word in stop-motion, Laika has played things slightly differently. Both companies make films for the entire family to enjoy, but tonally, it’s the difference between the U rating and the PG rating.
So when we say that Missing Link, Laika’s fifth feature, is going for Indiana Jones, you’ll know it earns its PG rating with the animated action sequences on display. Happily, it shares a sense of humour with those movies too, making this more accessible than their scarier previous outings. Although the fight scenes are a bit more intense than you usually see in kid-friendly movies, it’s perfectly suitable for youngsters who were enthralled by Coraline or Kubo and the Two Strings.
Where the film seems to have disappointed some aficionados is in playing more to the mainstream, but it’s purely the difference between Laika doing something only they would do and Laika doing a broad animated comedy to their same standards. The starry voice cast may have driven the budget for this one up, but they’re just as excellent all around, especially with Galifianakis finding new dimensions to the sort of cuddly, socially awkward critter he often plays, Fry sinking his teeth into playing a contemptibly stuffy antagonist, and Emma Thompson playing a hilariously different breed of snob.
It’s a shame that all of this didn’t translate into box office success during its theatrical run, because all other qualities aside, this is inarguably the best-looking animated movie of 2019. Seamlessly blending stop-motion sets and CG additions, the studio is famous for including time-lapsed behind-the-scenes footage of how they assemble certain complex shots in the closing credits of their films (make sure you watch this one), but you’ll also find yourself revelling in the character designs and gasping at the ingenuity of an Inception-level tumble that takes place on a ship traversing a stormy sea.
Missing Link sheds some of the idiosyncrasies that we associate with Laika, but retains the essentials that we love about their craft and storytelling. It doesn’t evolve much beyond the staggering work we’ve previously seen from them (particularly in Kubo), but it compensates by being faster, funnier, and generally more amiable. While animated sequels of all kind dominate the marketplace, here’s a film that gives us a standalone adventure in a beautifully constructed playground.
Missing Link is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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