Missing Link takes place during the Victorian era and follows the exploits of Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman). Frost is a proud, bigheaded, and cocksure adventurer – think of him as a proto-Indiana Jones (but with a stick up his ass). He travels the globe in search of the only thing bigger than his ego: mythological beasts. Beneath his wealth, good looks, and swagger lays an empty soul. Frost wants nothing more than to gain entry to the Optimates Club, a snooty group of “exceptional” men, run by Lord Piggot-Dunceb (Stephen Fry). Frost believes becoming the era’s next great man will fill the void in his life. So, in his mind, discovering Atlantis or proving the Loch Ness Monster exists would be his golden ticket to acceptance.
It’s nothing out of the ordinary when Frost receives a letter that tips him off to the whereabouts of a giant man-beast, and he follows up on the lead. It turns out that man-beast is a Sasquatch, the Sasquatch wrote the letter, and it’s a pretty nice fellow. Frost dubs him Mr. Link (Zach Galifianakis) – although the being prefers going by Susan. Susan may be the last of his kind and he pines for the company of other creatures like himself. Susan believes that the Himalayan Yetis are his distant relatives. So Susan agrees to let Frost prove his existence to the world in exchange for helping him discover the Yetis’ secret homeland, Shangri-La.
Missing Link continues Laika Studios’ run of visually captivating movies. The creativity, passion, and meticulous attention to detail the animators pour into their stop-motion films are second to none. Frost’s adventures take him across the globe, and every location we visit is as striking as the last. The movie begins in Scotland’s murky Loch Ness, with a foggy haze lingering beneath a soft pink sky. The story then heads to the Pacific Northwest, where a verdant forest borders on an old-west town and the bold tactile imagery is glorious. The plot even takes viewers through a lush Indian Jungle. Pay close enough attention, and you can see the moss growing on ancient monolithic statues. Each segment in Missing Link is different from the last and gives you something to marvel at.
Thanks to recent technical innovations, writer-director Chris Butler’s camera navigates each scene with a sense of freedom that wasn’t possible in past films. Everything from the camera’s positioning, and the use of lighting, to the film’s 2.35:1 aspect ratio is quite sophisticated by stop-motion picture standards. I can see myself tearing into the Blu-ray, so I can scan through the film one frame at a time. I don’t want to miss out on a single detail.
Jackman and Galifianakis make a wonderful tandem as Frost and Susan. Frost is a braggadocious fool who lacks self-awareness. He’s a man that is easy to root against, but Jackman comes across as so deliciously grandiose that the character still has his charms. The key here is that he’s not cruel or selfish so much as deluded. And we watch Frost evolve because of his relationship with Susan.
Susan is one of Galifianakis’ best performances in years. After watching Missing Link, it’s impossible to imagine Susan voiced by anyone else. Galifianakis can do offbeat and bombastic as well as anyone working today – (I would love to exist in a universe where Disney casts him as the genie in Aladdin) – and there’s a child-like undercurrent to his best performances. Galifianakis brings Susan to life by leaning into that youthful quality. What makes the character so endearing is that he is naïve, earnest and an idealist; there’s not a hateful bone in his 650-pound body. And despite being a societal outcast, this lonely Sasquatch is still sweeter and more sincere than any human.
Most of the movie’s jokes come from watching the selfless Susan and self-centred Frost’s personalities bounce off each other. Much like Guardians of the Galaxy’s Drax, Susan doesn’t have a nuanced grasp of the English language. He interprets things literally, and mining jokes from the duo’s miscommunications never gets old. But there is plenty of physical comedy too.
There are moments when you see how Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy influenced Laika’s animators. The characters’ highly expressive faces and how they communicate through exaggerated body language are evocative of the silent film era stars. And the way Frost parades Susan around humans decked out in an ill-fitting suit has a Looney Tunes quality to it. Best of all, Missing Link’s jokes work on a deeper level. Butler’s script uses Susan’s fish out of water scenario to take shots at British Imperialism, chauvinism, gender politics, and the anti-immigration movement.
From the opening title card until the closing credits, Missing Link is delightful. The latest addition to Laika’s fantastic canon is a non-stop visual feast, slightly subversive, and plenty of fun. While this new cast of characters didn’t resonate with me like Coraline, Norman, and Kubo, I do look forward to re-watching Susan and Frost’s globetrotting adventures.
On its surface, Missing Link is an odd-couple film, a road trip movie, and a wild tale about Bigfoot looking for a society of Yetis. But this picture is really about friendship, community, and our need to feel like we belong. Missing Link dazzles the eyes, captures the imagination, and warms the heart.
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