Laika has begun to establish themselves as the crowned kings of stop-motion animation, and for good reason. Their debut film Coraline has garnered a considerable fanbase over time, and the Tim Burton style visuals pair nicely with its complex and eerie story. Coraline was soon followed by numerous other hits like ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and most recently Kubo and the Two Strings. Laika has successfully dabbled in a variety of genres, making them the jack of all trades when it comes to the art. It makes you wonder what kind of stories they won’t tell.
What I love most about this company is how they write extravagant, often eccentric plots and then come up with a means of capturing those ideas later on. With models, miniature set pieces, and back-breaking labor, they make what may seem impossible possible. Watching the behind the scenes of their movies is almost as fascinating as the movies themselves.
But maybe there’s another reason for that too. With the exception of Coraline, there seems to be an ever-present discrepancy in the quality of the animation compared to the quality of stories they tell. Not that the writing is bad or irredeemable, it’s just that it lacks the same creative visual imagination.
Their latest film, Missing Link, exemplifies this perfectly.
Hugh jackman stars as Lionel Frost, a famed explorer who is sent a letter from who else but sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis), whose been hiding out for years in the Pacific Northwest. Tired of being lonely, Mr. Link (as he becomes known as) enlists the help of Lionel to help him migrate to the distant mythical land of Shangri-La, where he hopes to find others like him.
If you think the premise of the flick is humorous in its odd simplicity, then you’d be right. The biggest laughs the film conjures up come from the awkward encounters of Mr. Link and his bizarre social behavior. He doesn’t understand sarcasm or figures of speech, takes all comments literally, and disregards cultural norms. I guess you could say the personality Zach Galifianakis gives to Mr. Link is charming in his social anxieties and uncomfortableness.
But this shtick wears out quick. There’s a lot of space left open for some really clever gaffs and visual jokes, but Missing Link goes for the lazier punchlines, meaning there’s no punchline. They often rely on the audience laughing at the weird comments of Mr. Link, which as I said doesn’t fare well as a running joke. It’s only been one day since I watched the film and I can hardly remember a single gag or witty comment.
The story is pretty bare-bones basic in its plot and characters. This at times is a good thing, as I quite like undecorated stories that deliver a simple message. Missing Link occasionally nails this concept, capturing this positive, easygoing vibe that many flicks miss entirely. However, while being basic, it still overstuffs the plot with extra fluff, and the message gets muddled along the way. The protagonist Lionel is supposed to be arrogant and selfish, but these traits come on too strong and make him a loathsome character for most of the movie. And when the climax comes around, he doesn’t earn his redemption. There’s also your typical love interest lady voiced by Zoe Saldana who has sour feelings for Lionel, she’s not much better.
Missing Link is a mixed bag of great animation, hit or miss humor, and unenthusiastic characters. As a fan of the art of stop-motion animation and the painstaking work that goes into it, I enjoyed the visual depth that Laika took with the picture. The film takes us to a variety of fun locations that double as marvelous eye candy. Mount Everest, the American Frontier, downtown London, the jungles of India, it cannot be understated how beautiful the whole experience is. And even with some disappointing characters and missed opportunities for better jokes, we’re still left with a pleasant, family-friendly movie that puts you in a positive mood.
The Verdict: C+