SP Review: 'Missing Link' finds adventure in stop-motion

Arts and culture reporter Brandon King gives 'Missing Link' 8/10 stars

In case you haven't gathered from some of my previous reviews, I'm a huge fan of animated films. 

The opportunity for world-building, character design and different storytelling techniques appealed to me as a kid, and have only developed as an adult. 

Granted, with the recent reliance on 3D computer-generated animation, it can seem at first glance that a sense of variety has been lost within the genre.

Read More: SP Review: 'How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World' wraps up an amazing trilogy

Enter Laika, or what I refer to as the best animation studio no one has heard of. Despite some unfairly low box office returns, Laika's unique pieces of stop-motion animation have garnered some pretty solid critical acclaim, and all of their films have been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

The studio's last project, 2016's "Kubo and the Two Strings," was one of my favorite films of that year and to hear that it was finally coming out with a new project, now distributed under Annapurna Pictures, really piqued my interest.

Does this new film, "Missing Link," join the ranks of Laika's other projects? I'll give a confident yes to that notion. 

It may not be my favorite film from the studio, but Laika has given us another solidly entertaining story that pushes the boundaries of stop-motion animation while using surprisingly effective storytelling.

With the movie set in Victorian-era London, Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman) is a British explorer and curator of cryptids, or uniquely rare animals. 

Frost receives a letter telling him about the mysterious creature in North America, known as Sasquatch, where he sets his next journey. He arrives, discovering that Sasquatch himself (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) sent the message, and to Frost's surprise, can read and write in English.

The Sasquatch adopts the name Susan and explains why he contacted Frost. Susan believes the mythical Yetis that supposedly live in the Himalayas are his extended family and is convinced Frost is the only one who can help him reach them safely. Frost agrees, believing that this could be a career-making discovery for him.

They soon add a third member to their party in Adelina Fortnight (voiced by Zoe Saldana), the widow of one of Frost's old colleagues, who has knowledge of navigating the mountains. 

The three travel across the world together to reach their destination, evading a society of explorers led by Lord Piggot-Dunceby (voiced by Stephen Fry), who believes Frost's journey to be a threat to the "sanctity of the British Empire."

If I didn't talk about the animation in "Missing Link," I'd be leaving out a pretty essential selling point. It seems impossible, but with every new film I keep thinking Laika can't possibly improve its animation skills, and I am consistently wrong. 

A few scenes in particular — such as a chase scene on a boat and a behind-the-scenes montage during the credits — really drive home the effort, creativity and dedication that writer and director Chris Butler and his team have for the craft of stop-motion. This isn't some gimmick of a forgotten art form, but rather a true expression of storytelling, and I was once again in awe of that effort.

I was surprised by how the film utilizes its time period. It doesn't feel like an alternate version of Britain, but rather the colonial Britain of history — just with a Sasquatch. 

Laika has never shied away from mature ideas in its films, but the amount of references to the colonial, patriarchal and sometimes xenophobic attributes of that era might go over some people's heads. 

The film is still fairly light, and the comedic adventure we're supposed to follow works quite well. Frost and Susan make a pretty funny comedic duo together, and the laughs — while mostly in the same vein of "look how literal Susan takes things" — are done effectively. 

I couldn't immediately pinpoint why I didn't love this film as much as some of Laika's other projects, but as admirable as those historical contexts are to be present, they do take away from some of the moments we could have been spending with these characters. 

Both the characters and the story still work fine, but for once, it felt like this film was trying to juggle too many real-world ideas and not apply enough of them to their characters. 

Regardless, for most audiences, "Missing Link" is probably going to be pretty accessible. The animation alone will boost my rating up a notch, but the characters and ideas presented are done with respect, and with a fun sense of humor throughout. 

I'd definitely go see this again, and I encourage anyone out there who may want something a bit different from the Pixar and Dreamworks of the world to do so as well.

Overall, I give "Missing Link" 8/10 stars. 

Reach the reporter at brandon.D.King@asu.edu or follow @TheMovieKing45 on Twitter.

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