Ladies and gentleman, my favourite animation company has returned with a new stop-motion adventure comedy. So, you know what this means? Review time!
Hello everyone, Classic Film Kid here, and today I am so excited as I’m going to be taking a quick look at American-Canadian stop motion company LAIKA’s fifth feature film, Missing Link! This has one of my most anticipated releases of the year and now that it’s time for its worldwide release, will it pack the same amazing punch as all of the other LAIKA films? Let’s find out, shall we?
LAIKA may not have the most constant output, only releasing a film every two to three years, but their films really do have a special place in my heart. As you may know, I’ve already reviewed Coraline a while back, and that film would easily slot into my top 10 favourite films – top 20 at least. All their other movies I still adore and watch repeatedly though, I consistently visit their social media pages and their website for information on upcoming projects, and I have the bathroom shot from ParaNorman as my profile pic. So yeah, I suppose you could say I’m a fan. And for anyone wondering, my top 5 animation studios would also include Pixar, Studio Ghibli, Cartoon Saloon and Disney. No idea in what order, just thought I’d mention it.
Their latest offering takes on a more colourful, comedic direction, as we see an explorer named Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) is determined to be remembered for an important discovery. His latest mission is to find an ancient ape-like species named the Sasquatch, and when he finds it, he realises that it is a clever yet slightly naïve and lonely soul, and they go on a mission to find Shangri-La and the Yeti who he believes to be his cousins.
When I first saw the trailer for this, I wasn’t completely opposed to the idea of LAIKA doing a comedy as all of their films do have a lot of humour, but I was worrying that it might dumb them down a bit, a bit more kid-oriented. After seeing the film, I can safely say that while it isn’t LAIKA’s strongest work, it is incredibly entertaining and I still had a lot of fun with it. What definitely surprised me was just how funny this film is. Like I said earlier, LAIKA do have humour in their work but it’s never been their strongest point, however here I think since they knew they had to rely on it more than they would usually they tried to refine it and improve on it, and they certainly did. It’s not the most creative humour, but it was all very well done, combining great comic timing with the breathtaking animation to get some really good laughs. One scene, in particular, got my audience roaring, and that was when they are in Shangri-La. Emma Thompson’s character shows us what the real name for the land is by roaring angrily into the distance. When Lionel asks what it means, she declares it stands for ‘Keep out, we hate you.’ Funniest joke in the whole thing, hands down.
I also really liked that while it was a more easygoing, comfortable film than some of LAIKA’s past works, there were some really cool concepts hidden in there. The villain Dunceby (voiced by the legend that is Stephen Fry) hires a hunter to kill Mr Link/Susan not because it’s out of jealousy, but he doesn’t want to prove that evolution exists. It was a really interesting idea and when it did get time to shine, I realised it was quite a heavy topic to tackle. I just wished they’d delved into it a bit more.
That leads me to the problem that I had with this movie: I don’t feel it had quite as much of LAIKA’s trademark zaniness and interesting stories as I was hoping. I understand that they want to take risks, and for LAIKA one of them is doing a mainstream comedy like this, but to me this took the focus away from my favourite parts about LAIKA: they’re not afraid to delve deep into horror, the characters and designs are all very wacky and not what you would class as ordinary, and the animation is really intricate and detailed in exploring the off-key locations. Now, while the craftsmanship is shown here, is still absolutely top-notch (Oh my God, that Loch Ness Monster!), it wasn’t necessarily recognisable as LAIKA’s own work. To me, I found the design of the main characters, such as Lionel Frost and the villain, very Aardman-y. You know, small eyes accentuated big noses. I love Aardman, but I don’t want their more simple cartoony designs translating to the more mature LAIKA.
Anyway, back to the positives. I thought the voice acting was great all around, particularly from Stephen Fry as the over-the-top scientist villain and Hugh Jackman as protagonist Lionel Frost. He again fits into LAIKA’s trope of their main characters, minus Kubo, being social outcasts, distant from everybody else. I mean, you can totally see it: Coraline hates her parents and does things her way, everyone thinks Norman is a weirdo, Eggs is the missing Trubshaw baby and lives with a load of grotesque trolls, and similarly with Lionel Frost, his attempts at trying to discover new creatures and prove scientific theories leads to a lot of ridicule by the association in this film. Now yes, most of these themes are played for laughs to fit in with the new comedic tone, but the genuine heart and emotion isn’t lost in the mix. That’s something I’ve got to give LAIKA credit for.
Finally, to quickly talk about the animation, I’m not going to delve into how good it is because we all know that everyone at LAIKA is a genius and extremely talented at their craft. But what I really found spellbinding for this one was combining computer-generated graphics with their stop-motion creations, as yes, there is more of a reliance on seamless graphics and visual effects. Of course, though, that can be justified by the fact that not everything can be done in stop-motion, and this time, combining some brilliant visual and practical effects into the action scenes and scenery was a very nice touch and helped make it more authentic.
I did have a great time with Missing Link. It’s not quite as much of a glowing report as the studio’s other work and in my upcoming ranking, this probably won’t make it far from the bottom, but it was still a very fun and entertaining stop-motion comedy with some great fast pacing, funny humour, likeable characters and animation that reminds me why LAIKA are my favourite studio in the business. I see a solid 8 out of 10 for this one.
LAIKA films only come around every couple of years, but when they do, they are well worth the wait and this one was no exception. I look forward to the company’s future projects, which is set to include an adaptation of Phillip Reeve’s Goblins novel, so that should be good. Anyway, thank you for reading. I’ve also done my LAIKA film ranking with Missing Link (that will be up in a few days), and I do have some more LAIKA related content in the works, such as a little piece that I wanted to do about how the studio and Coraline came to be (because, me), but I’ve got a review of The Shining to bridge the gap between that, just so I won’t bore you with LAIKA.
Also, one more thing to add: why is Missing Link bombing at the box office? It’s LAIKA’s most mainstream film to date, it’s funny, it’s out at Easter, it’s animated. Is it something to do with stop-motion? I really hate people who don’t give LAIKA a chance. Anyway, enough blabbing for me. Until the Shining review, this is the Classic Film Kid, signing off!