Missing Link is the story of Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman), a charismatic explorer/adventurer who seeks glory through his travels and documentation of wild and mythical creatures. His contemporaries, however, think Frost’s ambitious are foolish and refuse his entry into their elitist Explorer’s Club. This leads to a challenge: if Frost can provide incontrovertible evidence of the Sasquatch’s existence, he may join. With the terms set, Frost sets off and does indeed find the missing link, whom he dubs Mr. Link (Zach Galifianakis)—an affable and warm giant creature midway on the ape-human spectrum. Mr. Link agrees to help Frost provided that the explorer can lead him across the world to find his long-lost cousins. Thus begins a grand adventure full of peril, friendship, and self-discovery.
What works in Missing Link is the characters, the animation, and the themes. Frost begins as a fairly selfish and somewhat unlikeable person. Fortunately, Mr. Link is so much fun, brimming with unbridled optimism and childlike wonder, that the two balance each other quite nicely. Many of the Missing Link’s best moments are both the action sequences where Frost and Link play off each other comedically like a Laurel and Hardy routine, but also the quieter moments where they attempt to understand and learn from and about one another. Rounding out the trio is Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana) who unexpectedly joins the adventure and often serves as Frost’s conscience. Fortnight also is a healthy demonstration of a strong woman in an animated film consistently avoiding being the “female who needs saving by strong men” tropes.
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Unsurprisingly, Missing Link is stunning to take in visually. The stop-motion animation is executed brilliantly by Laika—the studio also responsible for Kubo and the Two Strings, Coraline, and ParaNorman. Writer/director Chris Butler (a Laika mainstay), has designed characters and sequences that are both exaggerated yet grounded giving Missing Link a distinctive look and feel that is gorgeous and engaging. Younger audience members will likely giggle with glee at the physical humor, while parents will be awed by the recreation of natural settings using this unique style.
While Missing Link is aesthetically pleasing and full of great of messages, parents should be aware that there is a large amount of violence and what feels like unnecessary acts of evil and malice from the film’s villains. These moments are still cartoony but do include lots of guns and a few character deaths that younger watchers may find disturbing.
Missing Link is rather delightful, and most families will find something to enjoy in this film on a rainy day. It may not be the most memorable film produced by Laika, but there’s more than enough to praise and admire.
Recommended if you enjoyed: ParaNorman, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Boxtrolls