I don’t often see animated films in theaters. I don’t have a bias against animation or anything, but when they come out, there’s usually something more interesting to check out. However, I always make room for the stop-motion maestros at Laika Studios. From horror, to comedy, to adventure, and much more, you always know you’re in for a fun, visual treat with their films.

Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) is a British explorer who attempts to track and investigate mythical creatures. His biggest target of all has been the sasquatch, Bigfoot, yeti, samsquanch, or whatever you wanna call it. He believes it is the so-called Missing Link and to prove denier Lord Piggot-Duncbey (Stephen Fry) wrong, he sets out to find it. It doesn’t take Frost long to find the creature (Zack Galifianakis), who turns out to be a kind being with the ability to speak. Frost dubs him Mr. Link and they embark throughout North America to head back to England. They must be quick, though, as bounty hunter Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant) is hot on their tails and ready to kill. 

There are three main things I come to a Laika film for: groundbreaking stop-motion animation, humor, and heart, all in that order. I know people love to harp about Pixar, but Laika is the absolute king of animation for me. Stop-motion animation has been around forever, but Laika’s style of animation and brand of humor make them completely unique. They also seem to top themselves every time in the animation department, and they hit another pinnacle here. This is an absolutely gorgeous film, from the details in the sets and the characters, to how stunningly realistic some of the environments are. Frost, Link, and their eventual companion Adelina (Zoe Saldana) travel through all sorts of various locales, ranging from the jungles and up to the mountains. There are a lot of visually impressive action scenes that were insanely creative, especially considering the inherent limitations and difficulties of working with stop-motion animation. 

The animation can only do so much to stun, especially during the action scenes, so it helps that our characters are just so much fun. A lot of the film is banter between Frost and Mr. Link, most of the comedy coming from Mr. Link’s misunderstanding of… well, pretty much everything. Living in the forest for forever hasn’t given him the ability to accustom to social norms, so there’s predictably a lot of fish out of water jokes, but they’re all sold by the characters. Mr. Link, and thus the whole film, is incredibly endearing and fun to watch. It helps that the voice cast is outstanding across the board and even better, none of it sounds like the actors. Maybe you can hear Galifianakis a bit, but he gives Mr. Link a personality that’s different from his usual roles. None of the actors phone it in, perfectly matching the personalities of their detailed characters. Timothy Olyphant as the bounty hunter Willard Stenk (probably the best bad guy surname ever) was the highlight for me, where I didn’t even know it was him until the credits. Most animated films that cast A-listers usually have those A-listers just phone it in, but the stellar voice performances coupled with the animation just shows the passion of everybody involved. 

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an animated version of Indiana Jones, but this would certainly be it. This is a total adventure film, with the characters embarking on a long journey while being chased by bad guys and encountering helpful people along the way. Unfortunately, the consistent weak link across Laika films is that their stories are rather thin and predictable. You can pretty much guess every beat that’ll happen and with a brief 84-minute runtime, and of course, some story elements and characters come off as a bit underdeveloped. The relationship between Frost and Adelina is pretty much like every adventure movie out there where the man and woman bicker, but it’s a classic trope that adds to that spirit of adventure. Even then, the friendship that develops between Frost and Mr. Link is incredibly sweet and hit all the emotional beats to keep me invested.  

I always wonder if the slight narrative shortcomings are just an inherent hurdle for stop-motion animation. Stop-motion is incredibly time consuming and with Laika’s meticulous attention to detail and willingness to go big, it takes them much longer than other films to complete. I’ll take it, though, because the animation was gorgeous and the story and characters were than enough fun to compensate or any shortcomings. There’s just no other animated studio like Laika and with Missing Link, they still stand far above any other. 


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