Missing Link (2019) by Chris Butler
Review by Lydia Creech
Cinematary favorite Laika’s fifth feature Missing Link is a globe-spanning adventure aimed at a slightly younger crowd than their previous films. The look of Missing Link features a brighter color palette than anything the studio has done previously and by far the least grotesque character design – again, to try to capture a younger audience, I think.
Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman) wants very badly to join the “Society of Great Men,” but they keep rejecting his efforts to prove mythical creatures exist. When he receives a letter suggesting the Sasquatch can be found in North America, he sets out once and for all to prove his mettle to “people that don’t even like” him. However, in return for being “discovered,” it turns out that Sasquatch wants a favor…
Some staples of Laika’s thematic concerns pop up. The group of old white men as the gate-keepy villains recall Paranorman (also directed by Chris Butler) and Boxtrolls. I really liked that Frost gets challenged on why exactly he wants in with such a boys’ club (in all senses of the word), that would heap scorn upon him for his “radical” (scientifically sound) ideas about evolution ( the “missing link” of the title) and “throwing his lot in with… with... WOMEN and BEASTS” (i.e. folks who aren’t old white men!!). Frost’s answer is super relatable, too, but that doesn’t mean he’s in the right. It’s worth interrogating our impulses to leap to the side of institutions, especially ones that traffic in xenophobia and isolationism (though real life institutions possibly aren’t so blatant about it).
You can kind of count on Laika’s messaging to be gently on the progressive side, not just narratively but also brought across with their trademark dry sense of humor (though a healthy dose of slapstick is also mixed in this time, presumably for younger kids). They’ve been inclusive and surprising since the reveal of a gay character at the end of Paranorman (they also continue to challenge compulsory heterosexuality by denying Frost a kiss at the end here) My favorite bit was the Sasquatch’s blasé reaction to Frost’s reaction to the name he finally picked out for himself, inspired by a prospector he once met who happened to be a woman (gender norms are bullshit!). It works on several levels, from upending our ideas about who “prospectors” are, to the ridiculousness of expecting a Sasquatch to know the difference between “girl” and “boy” names, to names being “girl” or “boy” at all.
One of the saddest reasons someone gave me for skipping Laika’s last film, Kubo and the Two Strings, was that they thought of it as “just another CG kid’s movie.” In a way, this notion is the ultimate back-handed compliment, as Laika has so pushed stop-motion animation on visual smoothness as to be on par with (better than, frankly) anything Dreamworks or Illumination is putting out. Every Laika film takes a victory lap in the credits, as they’ve started a tradition of using time-lapse photography to showcase the painstaking work that goes into creating just one shot. As the only major American animation studio doing stop-motion, I feel protective. Maybe they’re keeping afloat with CEO Travis Knight’s other directorial efforts, but I’d love for their groundbreaking efforts in the field of stop motion to be rewarded, too.
For Easter weekend, take your family to see a movie that takes it as a given that the guy denying evolution is the baddie.