Five films in, and it's easy to take animation geniuses Laika for granted. Periodically the Oscar-nominated company releases a beautifully hard-crafted (claymation), painstakingly constructed feature length animation and by now we've come to expect a lot from them. Their last film, Kubo & the Two Strings, stands as one of the best family films of the last twenty-five years, resonating deep into the viewers soul. So the fact that the vibrant, oft-funny adventure romp Missing Link doesn't quite hit the heights of Kubo is not to say the film isn't very much worth your time.
The missing link of the title is a sasquatch who goes by the name of Mr. Link (and later on Susan). Potentially the last of his kind, he recruits the explorer Sir Lionel Frost to help him find his long-lost relatives. Frost, in the mean time, hopes the adventure will increase standing amongst his peers. Together they traverse the globe by train, horse and boat, all the while be chased by figures that would put a stop to our heroes' adventure, permanently.
Missing Link is first and foremost a gorgeous film, gifted with a narrative that spans continents and gives its creators a rich tapestry to weave their adventure onto. Lush vistas (enhanced by computers) give the film an immense scope, and it stands as one of the best looking films since, well, Kubo & the Two Strings. There is a magnificent voice cast headed by a wonderfully pompous, loveably arrogant turn from Hugh Jackman (who has the perfect voice for a Victorian explorer). Zach Galifianakis brings a gentle warmth to the part of Mr. Link, proving an endearing figure, whilst Zoe Saldana has a great ferocity as Frost's potential love interest, even if she doesn't quite have enough to do. There's even room for some devilish turns from Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson.
What stops me from calling this film a masterpiece is that it all feels a tad slight, unable to reach the heights of the company at its best. There is still nothing quite like a Laika film, but Missing Link most impresses on a visceral level, not an emotional one. There are several tremendous action scenes, particularly one on a freighter rolling in a storm that reminded me of Inception. The leap with Missing Link is a technical one, exhibited in the final credits that I won't spoil here but does make you appreciate the effort put in here.
Missing Link is a sweet, endearing and vibrant picture, whose craft is easily appreciated. While it might not quite hit the height of the creators' best, it is still a magnificent technical achievement, and you should definitely go and bask in its creative brilliance.