Mr. Movie

Mr. Movie: Laika’s ‘Missing Link’ has great animation but only so-so story

Missing Link trailer

Tired of living a solitary life in the Pacific Northwest, Mr Link, who is 8 feet tall and covered in fur, recruits fearless explorer Sir Lionel Frost to guide him on a journey to find his long-lost relatives in the fabled valley of Shangri-La.
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Tired of living a solitary life in the Pacific Northwest, Mr Link, who is 8 feet tall and covered in fur, recruits fearless explorer Sir Lionel Frost to guide him on a journey to find his long-lost relatives in the fabled valley of Shangri-La.

‘Missing Link’

“Missing Link” is stop-motion animated studio Laika’s fifth feature. To put it bluntly, “Missing Link” is missing a few “make-me-care” links. In fact, other than the studio’s first flick, “Coraline,” the other Laika films have missed a few of them, too.

First, a plot stop.

Mr. Link is the missing link of the title “Missing Link” but he’s not “the” missing link. It’s just a figure of speech. You and I quickly learn that Mr. Link is a Sasquatch or — as we in the Northwest call him — Bigfoot.

“Missing Link” says Mr. Link is the last of his kind. He wants to meet his Yeti cousins. As you know, they live a couple of continents away in Shangri-La.

But I’m a bit ahead of myself. All that comes later in a story that starts with Sir Lionel Frost. He fancies himself a larger than life explorer. The buffoonish, and often boorish, Frost is more laughed at than taken seriously. He claims to have found evidence of mythical monsters the world over but gets no respect from his explorer peers.

This is where Mr. Link arrives in the story. Frost tells his peers he’s found proof that North America’s Bigfoot exists. Pooh-poohed and laughed at, Frost makes a bet that he’ll find the beast and if he does, he must be admitted to the exclusive explorer’s club.

So it’s off to the wilds of North America where he quickly finds the beast. It turns out Mr. Link — as Frost dubs him — sent the letter that got Frost interested in his existence. The purpose was to entice him to help him find the Yeti.

Of course, Frost doesn’t have a clue how to get to Shangri-La. His former girlfriend, Adelina Fortnight, does. Her late husband — also an explorer of note — has a map. She won’t part with it so — as push turns to animated shove — Adelina joins the adventure.

Adding to the danger is an outlaw named Stenk who is hired by Frost’s explorer rivals to keep him from succeeding. Insert dramatic drumroll here. Stenk has orders to shoot to kill.

Typical of a Laika production, the animation is top-notch. Writer/director Chris Butler and his animation crews do a wonderful job of character and set creation. Also typical of a Laika film, the voice casting is also quite good. “Missing Link’s” main characters are done by Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis and Zoe Saldana.

They have a blast with pieces of Butler’s (“ParaNorman,” “Kubo and the Two Strings”) script. Once in awhile, Butler manages to pop out a doozy of a line. Usually, it’s one that will go over the head of younger kids but won’t be lost on the few adults in the room.

The real fun of “Missing Link” comes from how Jackman, Galifianakis, Saldana and co-stars Timothy Olyphant, Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry and Matt Lucas interact. This is especially true of Jackman and Galifianakis. Jackman is totally over-the-top and Galifianakis steals the show by underplaying the part and doing Yang to Jackman’s Yin.

“Missing Link’s” flaws come from links missing from Butler’s story. In places, the screenplay is a predictable drag. None of this is rocket science but Butler seems to hurry through some of his plot points. That forces his movie to plop along in chunks. It’s almost like he — from time-to-time — left a short scene-connecting scene on the cutting room floor.

Like Mr. Link’s 8-foot, 650 pound elephant in the room, in places it appears that Butler almost couldn’t decide what to focus on most — the story or the art.

In Butler’s case — and like all of the Laika productions except “Coraline” — art seems to have won out. Since the departure of stop-motion storytelling legend, and “Coraline” director, Henry Selick a few years ago, the studio’s production values have remained high, but the more critical art of how a story is told seems to have left with him.

The bottom-line: “Missing Link” is a mess that ultimately ends up missing the movie mark.

▪ Rated PG for mature themes. It’s playing at the Fairchild Pasco and Queensgate 12s, the AMC Classic Kennewick 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

▪ Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5

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