Laika is one of my favorite independent animation studios. Their movies have consistently been some of the most creative, inventive, genuine, funny and beautiful animated features I’ve seen. And what I love the most is that each film has its own unique style and sense of self.
And when I heard they making a new one, I was excited. What could the geniuses behind Coraline and ParaNorman possibly do next? As it turns out, their next venture would take a turn from the horror and fantasy epics of the past, for a more down-to-earth, buddy road trip comedy.
And honestly, it’s probably my least favorite of the Laika movies so far. It’s not bad. Maybe it’s because they partnered with Annapurna Pictures for the movie’s release but I doubt that.
The stop motion is absolutely seamless; there were times I forgot it was stop motion. Each of the characters has its own unique design and the scenery, is absolutely gorgeous. I could look at it all day.
And it’s so different from past films.
Laika’s past films have been really mature and dark, even The Boxtrolls had its moments. Missing Link on the other hand, only has a moment or two of horror, with the rest of it being pretty wholesome, innocent family fun that’s pretty appropriate for any age.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, this also greatly weakens the narrative and plot.
It’s a very, clear straightforward plot, but one that is very predictable and that I managed guess about 80% of after seeing the first trailer.
And somehow the film still managed to meander and wander, and never really do anything. It was disappointing.
The film has all these different and beautiful locations, but we never really spend a lot of time in any of them, and they’re never anything more than a set piece. There’s the American Northwest, a cruise ship and a train, and they all just kind of blend together. They don’t have personality or color. We never get to know the locations.
They’re all lovely place but I feel like we never get to know them. Each new piece is just a step in getting us to the final destination; the Himalayas and Shangri-La, the latter of which we maybe all of 10 minutes in.
And that leads us to one of the most disappointing movie climaxes I’ve seen this year.
I won’t spoil it too much, but the movie really decides to hone in on the whole “It’s the journey, not the destination message” idea and doesn’t really hone in on its main theme of “Isolation is bad.” It’s kind of forced in there and very obvious.
It’s poorly integrated into the story.
In other words; there’s a lot that is said in the story but not shown. Which isn’t how movies are supposed to work.
The heroes do make it to Shangri-La the home of the Yetis, but don’t spend a lot of time there. It feels like a waste and that the movie rushed to get there and then realized there was only 20 minutes of run time left.
I feel like this could have been easily solved with a slightly longer run time.
I get that the film is aimed at a younger audience and is stop motion, which limit run time considerably but even 10 minutes would have helped if for whatever reason they couldn’t fix the awkward pacing of the film.
The characters don’t really seem to change: Sir Lionel Frost, is supposed to have this huge arc where he recognizes Susan, the name of the titular Missing Link as more than just a creature but it’s done subtlety and awkwardly that it seems to come out of nowhere. His arc is to become less bigoted.
Susan doesn’t really change either. He accepts his place in the world but there’s no lesson for him.
I like Adelina Fornight and I wish she got more characterization than the movie gave her. There’s little character arc for her in my opinion as well.
It seems to be a character driven piece but everyone plays off each other awkwardly.
I’ll give the movie credit for trying to break tropes: there’s no plot mandated friendship failure or misunderstanding between Lionel and Susan, nor does Lionel ever try to actual betray Susan’s trust. I was completely ready for him to sell out Susan, so he could become a part of the adventurer club, or whatever it’s called.
I’m glad that didn’t happen.
And I’m also happy that Lionel and Adelina never got together; it was obvious she was not over her husband’s death and that Lionel was still kind of a jerk.
Lord Piggot-Dunceby and the bounty hunter Stenck don’t get enough attention. Piggot-Dunceby reminds me a lot of the villain from Boxtrolls and Stenck is pretty generic, hard to kill, never gives up bounty hunter. Not terrible villain archetypes, but I think the movie could have worked fine with just one of them, so they could have gotten more focus.
Again, it’s not a bad movie, but it’s far from being the classic that Coraline or ParaNorman is, with a wide appeal and unique themes, characters and plot.
If this movie had been computer created by Blue Sky, it would have wholly unremarkable and forgotten within days afters its release. Also, there have been so many movies recently focusing on Yetis and Bigfoots that it’s really hard to find anything about this film other than it’s medium that stands out.
Oh, well. There’s always next time.
And that’s the scoop.
Length: 94 minutes
Year of release: 2019
Director/Writer: Chris Butler
Producer: Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner
If you liked this review read “Isle of Dogs,” a bland, cluttered ‘tail’ of a boy and his dog