Laika Studios has built itself a reputation over the years as a groundbreaking animation studio, pushing the boundaries of stop-motion animation and storytelling. ParaNorman, Coraline, and Kubo and the Two Strings have delighted audiences while innovating new ways to use stop-motion, miniatures, and visual design to bring new stories to life and pioneer their niche in animation. Their latest movie, Missing Link, hits theaters this weekend.
The movie follows self-absorbed explorer Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman), who is desperate to gain the respect of his esteemed adventuring peers. When he discovers Mr. Link (Zach Galifianakis) in the Pacific Northwest, he sees the Sasquatch as his ticket to fame and glory. But the shaggy cryptoid convinces Frost to help him find his missing relatives in the Himalayas instead. Accompanied by the feisty former adventurer Adelina Fortnight, the trio sets out on an adventure around the world, all the while being pursued by the dangerous Stenk (Timothy Olyphant), who will stop at nothing to keep them from discovering Shangri-La.
So, does Missing Link hold up to the magic of Laika’s other movies? Here are three reasons to see it in theaters.
1. Hugh Jackman Is Great As The Over-The-Top, Oblivious Lionel Frost
Hugh Jackman is a showman and entertainer, through and through, whether he’s strapping on a pair of adamantium claws or singing a showstopping number in a musical. It’s no different in Missing Link, where Jackman’s tendency for theatrical flourish works – he is perfect as the larger-than-life, utterly narcissistic Lionel Frost. An opening sequence involving Nessie – yes, of the Loch Ness Nessies – perfectly nails Frost’s swashbuckling competence and utter lack of consideration for anyone around him. For all his brilliance with science and competence in the face of dire situations in adventuring, he is magnificently boorish and clueless in every other area of life, particularly interpersonal relationships. With anyone else voicing the character, he’d be too unlikable to root for; Jackman’s gift is that he’s so fundamentally charming that you find yourself hoping that Lionel Frost evolves into a better man over the course of the movie.
2. The Visual Design And Set Pieces Are Absolutely Stunning
Until Into the Spider-Verse came along, Laika, in my mind, was the undisputed champion of eye-popping animated movies. Kubo and the Two Strings, to this day, is still one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen. In a number of ways, Missing Link pushes the visuals even further. Director Chris Butler and producer Travis Knight were fascinated with the thought of setting a movie in the Victorian Era and then filling it with the big, sweeping natural visuals you’d see in a National Geographic magazine spread. Sprawling vistas dazzle with saturated color; towering conifer forests of the Pacific Northwest fill the screen with shades of emerald and shamrock and pine; a locomotive races along tracks stretching through vast prairies under skies dotted with puffy clouds; a ship steams along through endless crashing deep ocean waves; the snowy, glittering expanse of the ice-laden Himalayas stretch beyond the limit of vision. Costume designer Deborah Cook deserves credit, too; the costuming for Adelina and Lionel show precise attention to detail, infused with rich hues and tiny, textural details that tell a story all on their own. It’s a sensory feast, with nearly every shot a frame beautiful enough to be in the pictures of a magazine.
3. Underlying Theme Of Support For Science And Conservation
Missing Link is a surprisingly pro-science, pro-conservation movie. Lionel Frost’s colleagues are stuffy old men stuck in the mud of the past, dinosaurs who disregard scientific progress and want nothing more than to stop it in its tracks. In their collective mind, there is no such thing as studying animals; there is only killing them and mounting their heads as trophies. Sir Lionel’s naturalist approach of taking photographs and specimen samples, rather than just outright killing his finds and dragging them back to London, is seen as strange and perverse to the whitebeards. At the Royal Society of Adventurers, Lionel’s progressive ideas are openly mocked, but to his credit he stands his ground and defends science and progress rather than kowtow to the men whose esteem he so desperately wants. Shortly after meeting Mr. Link, Lionel reveals to Mr. Link that he has to bring back proof of the Sasquatch’s existence. For a split second, you think, Here we go. This is where he decides whether or not to kill the monster. But no. Sir Lionel surprises by being better than that; he simply suggests some hair and saliva samples will suffice. Sir Lionel may be in many ways a buffoon, but he is absolutely a scientist through and through and a man with the utmost respect for nature and its conservation. At a time in which it seems science and progress are being bombarded by our own dinosaurs in charge, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a movie that champions both so simply and naturally.