Laika’s latest stop-motion symphony is a soaring triumph of production. Weaving together sumptuous worlds with rich animation and a thumping score, it skirts over its slight pacing issues with ease.
The story follows Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) traversing the world in search of mythical and elusive creatures, with the film’s rip-roaring opening salvo seeing him track down the Loch Ness monster.
Yet when he ‘finds’ the Missing Link itself (Zach Galifianakis), the pair strike a deal to travel to the mythical haven of Shangri-La in search of glory for one and companionship for the other. Alongside the fiery Adelina (Zoe Saldana), the crew are chased by dastardly villains and bastions of white privilege alike.
At its heart, this is a film about belonging. Frost wants acceptance from the pompous Victorian aristocrats who have already charted the globe and as the film opens he is an imperial cavalier seeking wild monsters to tame. This is a quest for glory instead of anthropological discovery.
Crucially, Link is a creature that wants to be ‘discovered’. Tired of the loneliness which accompanies obscurity, the story subverts a narrative trope as old as King Kong. Even Adelina, recently widowed, wants to break from the past and find a new purpose through adventure.
The introduction of Link and the guiding hand of Adelina force Frost to reconsider his world-view, fostering one which is infinitely more empathetic. Indeed, there is a touching boat-side scene where Frost encourages Link to adopt a more lasting name. Though Link’s choice is unconventional, the creeping adoption of the new name reflects a shift of agency and a gradual softening of ego as the film heads towards its denouement.
These feelings are delivered by a voice cast who perform vibrantly throughout. Frost is a quintessentially Victorian explorer, bursting with bluster and brio. Unsurprisingly, Jackman is able to dial up his P.T Barnum shtick accordingly. Meanwhile, Galifianakis brings an endearing earnestness to Mr Link, giving him room to balance naivety and wistfulness.
Added on to this are the perfectly pastiche efforts of Stephen Fry and Timothy Olyphant, who bring levity and moustache-twirling villainy to their roles, while Emma Thompson is clearly loving every moment as a regal, capricious yeti. And no, that isn’t a typo.
The film feels like the yonder-struck and Skittle-filled son of Lost City of Z, while the annotated maps emblazoned across the screen reinforce the globe-hopping spirit of Indiana Jones.
This derring-do does, however, occasionally undermine the pacing of the story. Because it is always reaching for the next adventure, Missing Link sometimes underplays its quieter, more poignant moments and misplaces its momentum.
Yet these narrative quibbles pale into insignificance when you consider the jaw-dropping beauty of the animation. From the thriving streets of Victorian London through to the serene pastels of wild Washington state, the film gives every location a rich texture.
East coast America, the depths of the Indian jungle and even daybreak on a Scottish loch are rendered with such skill and care that each place feels poetically unique. This is all underpinned by a terrific score which boldly accentuates the tone of each place.
The sum total of these tantalising parts is an animated film which builds its world vividly and confidently. Unsurprisingly the door is left ajar for new adventures and while animated sequels can fail to deliver (save for the majesty of Shrek 2… okay, and Toy Story), there’s something charming about the thought of these characters reuniting in pursuit of a perfectly rendered sunset.