‘Missing Link’: A Trope-Dodging, Beautiful Animated Film for Adults and Kids Alike

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There’s something wonderful about stop-motion animation that separates it from both traditional hand-drawn cartoons and modern computer-generated ones. It’s the same thing that makes people desire handmade crafts above machine-built: there’s a personal connection to everything. Every single moment that ends up on screen was carefully, painstakingly assembled to be just right. Of course, it’s the time that that kind of process requires that’s what makes such films very rare these days.

Fortunately, we have LAIKA Studios, the makers of Coraline, Paranorman, and Kubo and the Two Strings, who have kept stop-motion alive by continually moving its cutting edge further forward with each film. Their latest production is a film called Missing Link, and it’s just as beautiful, creative, well-acted, and funny as you could want any movie – animated or not – to be. I had the pleasure of attending a press junket for the movie a few weeks ago, and I think I can best express how much I appreciated the film by saying that not only can’t I wait to see it again, but I even more can’t wait to bring my family to see it for the first time.

Missing Link, which opens this Friday (April 12), centers around three main characters: Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman), Adelina Fortnight (voiced by Zoe Saldana), and Mr. Link (voiced by Zach Galifianakis). Frost, whose character arc takes the entire movie, is a brilliant intrepid explorer without much luck or consideration for other people. Fortnight is a skilled adventurer herself, but is struggling to start the next chapter of her life following the untimely death of her husband. And Mr. Link, who is (obviously) the heart of the movie, is a lonely, startlingly well-read, English-speaking Sasquatch.

Based on those character descriptions, you probably have some kind of idea in your head of how the story will play out, and you’re probably right about some things, but I speak from personal experience when I say that many of my expectations about the character arcs and the overall story were subverted in marvelous ways. And you probably have some ideas about the sorts of jokes and funny situations the movie contains, and you’re very probably right, but there’s more than you expect. I will say that one of the few criticisms I have of Missing Link is that at least one of its running jokes starts out a bit tired, and therefore does not benefit from repetition. Nonetheless, I found myself laughing out loud a lot, so don’t worry that the one tired running joke might spoil the rest of the humor.

(L-R) The author, Zoe Saldana, Zach Galifianakis, Chris Butler.

At the junket I attended, I had the pleasure of sitting in a group interview with Saldana, Galifianakis, and the movie’s director, Chris Butler. They had some interesting insight to offer about this particular film-making process. Asked about the difficulty he faced being funny with only a vocal presence, and no physical presence, in a production, Galifianakis had this to say:

[A]s a stand-up, you are used to instant gratification. Even with music, you don’t really need that so much. You can play, and the song’s over, you’ll get a clap. But with comedy, at least stand-up, you have to hear laughs to keep going. So when you’re performing in these booths, or even on sets, you know, you’re not getting laughs on sets cause you’ve done 16 times and the joke gets old. Yes, it’s just a different energy and you kind of have to get used to, you know, people in the room not giving it up because they’re there to do their jobs, you know. They’re not there as an audience member. So, but Yes, it’s a — you know, you’ll do a joke in the booth that you think is pretty good and you don’t hear anything. Luckily I’m used to bombing on stage — it’s not gonna throw me.

There was a lot more to the interview, but most of the parts I’d like to quote would constitute spoilers for parts of the plot that, while most people would probably not consider them spoiler material, I think would work much better if experienced unexpectedly. Let me just add that I think the movie has an excellent message for girls, and a better one than most animated films.

Please see below for a clip from the movie. Missing Link, from the brilliant folks at LAIKA Studios, opens this Friday, April 12. Tickets can be purchased here. If you have kids, check back here on GeekDad starting Friday morning for my list of things parents should know about it.

I attended a press junket paid for by United Artists Releasing. All opinions expressed here are my own.

Photos: LAIKA Studios, United Artists Releasing.

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