Missing Link is the latest film from the animation wizards at Laika, the tiny U.S. studio responsible for gems including Kubo and the Two Strings and Coraline. Remarkably, this film blows all of their previous output away from a tech standpoint, with stop-motion animation so buttery smooth it's completely indiscernible from computer animation, as well as highly detailed and exceptionally lit sets and character models. Where their prior works The Boxtrolls and ParaNorman suffered from muted color palettes and lighting that made even dark scenes look washed out, Missing Link is an HDR-friendly melange of glorious, vibrant colors brought to life with warm lighting.
This is an absolutely great-looking film, but its story is a bit lacking, and is also the victim of unfortunate timing due to its inclusion of yetis that have already been the focus of Smallfoot and are about to pop up again in this fall's DreamWorks project, Abominable, making this the second of three yeti toons in the span of a year.
Set sometime in the late 19th century, the story follows fearless British adventurer Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) as he sets out to the wild American frontier to prove the existence of Bigfoot. He quickly learns that the mythical creature is real, but instead of finding a ferocious beast he discovers that the creature (Zach Galifianakis) is a gentle and lonely soul hoping to find kinship in the company of another supposed myth, yetis. Frost agrees to help Mr. Link reach the yetis in their presumed home in the Himalayas, recruiting old acquaintance Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana) to help them since she has the only potentially accurate map to the yeti sanctuary, Shangri-La.
Regrettably, the story moves fairly slow, especially in the first half hour, and really never generates much interest or emotion, making what needs to be the strongest piece of the work the weakest. The voice actors do fine work with the script, with Galifianakis in particular generating some laughs as the preposterously gentle and shy beast. Some key action set pieces also give the plot just enough juice to tip the scales to the positive side, but overall the film succeeds primarily because of its artistry, not its writing.
The bonus features consist of roughly 15 minutes of brief behind-the-scenes footage spotlighting the creation of Mr. Link, the painstaking stop motion work, and an in-depth look at a thrilling ice bridge battle. Viewers who skip the bonus features and/or aren't familiar with Laika's modus operandi likely won't even realize that this is a stop-motion film, because at this point Laika has become so adept at their craft that the film appears to be entirely computer-animated. While the story is somewhat lacking, this film shows Laika at the peak of their craftsmanship and sets a new high-water mark for stop-motion animation.
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