Director: Chris Butler
Writer: Chris Butler
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana, Zach Galifianakis, Stephen Fry, Timothy Olyphant, Emma Thompson, Matt Lucas, Amrita Acharia
One thing is certain: Laika Studios – located right in my backyard, by the way – has never made it easy on themselves. In an era when virtually all animated features are CG, they adhere to the painstaking process of stop-motion animation (probably why they’re produced only five films in 10 years). When even Pixar has succumbed to franchise fever, Laika continues to take enormous creative and financial risks with concepts that aren’t easily marketable nor conducive to franchising. Laika makes family films without ever dumbing them down or blatantly catering to kids with “cute” characters.
They are films made by artists, not technicians or accountants, so it must have really stung when Missing Link didn’t find an audience while another studio can vomit-out The Emoji Movie and audiences vomit-back $200 million. That’s like a talent show where a classical pianist comes in second place to a kid who can squirt milk out his nose.
In a way, I can understand Missing Link being a hard sell. It’s populated with unconventionally-rendered, wildly-exaggerated characters that wouldn’t look good on a cereal box. In fact, the title creature, Mr. Link (aka “Susan”), is initially off-putting, with a snout like a botched nosejob. The humor is often very dry and a lot of the best gags aren’t visual ones.
But like Laika’s other films – The Boxtrolls, in particular – Missing Link develops an infectious, easy-going charm that can sneak-up on the viewer, perhaps without them realising it. Though seldom laugh-out-loud funny, there are frequent bits of throw-away dialogue that are often uproarious (“You’re utopia sucks!”). The voices provided by an impressive cast are merely adequate (Hugh Jackson seems kind-of underused), but their characters are what matter and they tend to grow on you as the story unfolds.
Of course, it’s the unappreciated stop-motion animation that ultimately steals the show. The attention to detail is amazing, the characters’ expressions & movements so fluid that one could almost mistake it for computer animation. Even if one isn’t enamoured by its aesthetic, characters or story, the technical merits alone make Missing Link worth seeing. Another visually impressive achievement from Laika Studios, it’s a shame their hard work was largely ignored in theatres. On the other hand, since this Blu-ray comes with some fascinating making-of featurettes, maybe it’ll be easier to appreciate at home.