Movie Guru: Hugh Jackman excellent in sweet, beautifully animated ‘Missing Link’
Rated: PG for action/peril and some mild rude humor
Written and directed by: Chris Butler
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, Zoe Saldana, Timothy Olyphant, Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Matt Lucas and more
Guru’s grade: Three and a half stars
The team at Laika has turned stop-motion animation into the highest art form.
They’re back at it again with “Missing Link,” a beautifully animated movie that’s lighter than their usual fare. Though the story is missing some of the studio’s usual nuance, the story has a sweetness and silliness that will hopefully grab the attention of a wider audience. When animation is this amazing, everyone deserves to see it.
The movie starts with an adventurer who finds all kinds of strange creatures but still can’t win the respect of his peers. He goes to America looking for a sasquatch, only to find that the sasquatch wants the explorer’s help to find the equally mythic yetis. With the assistance of another explorer who has an important map, the three face adventure and danger as they try to discover what belonging really means.
The story is sweet, but more simplistic than it is in some of Laika’s other movies. In some ways it should have been simplified even more, with the hints of romance between Jackman and Saldana’s characters feeling like an afterthought. The story was already entertaining enough that they didn’t need it.
In fact, it’s that entertainment value that might be the movie’s most important quality. Laika usually leans toward darker movies, and “ParaNorman” and “Kubo and the Two Strings” are flat-out heartbreaking. “Missing Link” has a few sad moments, but it’s mostly a cheerful, funny exploration of friendship and belonging. The public hasn’t really embraced Laika on the scale it deserves, and this might just be the movie with wide enough appeal to change that.
On the animation front, Laika animators have outdone themselves here. The studio uses some CGI to fill in the very edges of shots (a fact they show in their mid-credits behind-the-scenes montage), but everything else you see onscreen is beautiful, painstakingly rendered stop motion animation. The fact that your brain keeps trying to tell you it’s all CGI is only a testament to just how amazing it is.
Even better, amazing the audience is clearly the animators’ goal. Some scenes feel like the animators came up with the most difficult shots possible, just for the sheer joy of the challenge. The movie covers a variety of terrains, from desert canyons and lush jungles, all of it rendered in gorgeous detail. Even something seemingly small like a closeup of a hoof splashing into clear clay water is the result of an incredible amount of effort.
“Missing Link” isn’t a perfect movie, but it has the chance to appeal to a wide variety of people. With everything else Laika has accomplished, that might be exactly what the studio needs right now.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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