Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) is an adventurer extraordinaire who has made the most amazing discoveries, but could never bring back any proof. He wants and needs to be made a member of the snooty explorers club and sets out on a mission that will clinch that membership when he finds the “Missing Link.”
I knew nothing about animation writer-director Chris Butler’s second foray into the stop-motion animation world. Then I saw the trailer and thought, “I have to see this.” I did, and I spent 95 minutes with a smile on my face. This is the fifth stop-motion animation from Laika Entertainment – the previous were “Coraline (2009),” “ParaNorman (2012),” “The Boxtrolls (2014)” and “Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)” – and it is a ball!
We meet Sir Lionel as he entices the Loch Ness monster with bagpipe music and takes a picture of the gargantuan. This proof, he believes, will guarantee his entry into the explorers club, until the camera is accidentally destroyed. His hurt pride, and a bet with the club’s nasty president (Stephen Frye), drives him to make the long journey to the US and the Pacific Northwest, prompted by a letter about the very real existence of Sasquatch.
Writer Butler could have made this journey, easily, the whole of “Missing Link.” But, once Lionel and Mr. Link (Zack Galifianakis) meet, that is just the beginning of the adventure that is full of action, intrigue and, best of all, great comedy. The rest of the delightful story is for the viewer to discover and enjoy.
The vocal talents are an embarrassment of riches with Hugh Jackman and Zach Galifianakis joined by Zoe Saldana, as feisty widow and adventurer Adelina Fortnight, in what will become their ultimate quest. The supporting cast of characters includes the above mentioned Stephen Frye, Emma Thompson and Timothy Olyphant, as the ruthless henchman Stenk, and all are vivid characters and fill the background well.
The fine stop-motion photography, terrific cast, first-rate storytelling and rich comedy are good reasons to see “Missing Link.” It is the kind of movie that I can recommend for adults and children, both. I look forward to the further adventures of Mr. Link, Sir Lionel and Adelina. I give it a B+.
Sir Lionel Frost (voice of Hugh Jackman) has dedicated his life to investigating myths around the world but is miffed that Lord Piggot-Dunceb (voice of Stephen Fry) won’t allow him to join fellow adventurers in the Optimates Club. Having just received a letter with information regarding the Sasquatch of the Pacific Northwest, Frost wagers Piggot-Dunceb for membership if he can prove the existence of the “Missing Link.”
Laika, the stop motion studio behind “Coraline” and “Kubo and the Two Strings,” produces another winner from its “Paranorman” writer/director Chris Butler with its fifth release. This one features global travel from London to the American West to the fabled Shangri-La as the evolving Sir Lionel commits to delivering his lonely big footed pal to his Himalayan cousins. The visuals are eye popping, the costumes beautifully crafted and the vocal cast delightful in an animation that is at once a throwback and forward thinking.
A prologue establishes the unevolved Frost, admonishing his assistant Mr. Lint over the tepidness of his tea out in the middle of Loch Ness. Frost lures the beastie with bagpipes, then lassoes it, Lint instructed to hold on for a photo op. Frost ends up rescuing Lint from the depths, astonished when the man quits after what Frost only sees as a singular experience. Alas, Nessie destroyed all evidence of it with a flick of his tail.
Back at his London digs stuffed with cryptozoological artifacts, Sir Lionel opens a letter from Washington State. Childish handwriting from ‘a true believer’ instructs exactly where to find a Sasquatch. Frost finds a mold of a Sasquatch footprint among his belongings tagged with the same location. Holding it aloft he cries ‘Something is afoot!’
Punny humor, silly slapstick and classic cartoon tropes abound in Butler’s tale, but he’s also used his evolutionary theme to layer in more modern concepts like animal rights, feminism and male sensitivity. When the link (voice of Zach Galifianakis), who eventually chooses the name Susan (a twist on Johnny Cash’s ‘A Boy Named Sue’), is found, we learn that although he can write and speak, he takes everything quite literally, leading to unfortunate reactions to Sir Lionel’s frosty sarcasm. It takes a new member of the team to point out Frost’s condescending attitude towards Susan. Adelina Fortnight (voice of Zoe Saldana aping Salma Hayek), once Frost’s amour, is the widow of his former partner who died holding a map to Shangri-La. When Frost attempts to steal the map he gains a partner and the trio set sail. But Piggot-Dunceb, afraid of losing his bet, has hired a ‘thug,’ Willard Stenk (voice of Timothy Olyphant), to kill Frost and the mean little varmint tails them every step of the way. (There’s more than a little of the spirit of ‘The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle’ in this film’s DNA.)
When the intrepid trio finally reaches their destination, Yeti Elder’s (voice of Emma Thompson) English translation of her mystical valley’s name is not at all what they were expecting. Butler pulls out all the stops for the ultimate cliffhanger of an ending, sure to cause vertigo if viewed in 3D.
Character design renders humans with either razor sharp triangular noses (our heroes) or bulbous schnozzes (the bad guys), the orange Susan and her blue counterparts’ circular and recessed. The color palette is naturally bright. Costume design sees Frost and Susan in tweed suits, Adelina decked out in purple finery with matching gloves. Jackman’s upper class diction is note perfect for Frost while the gentle naïveté Galifianakis supplies to Susan makes his character utterly endearing.
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