A Monster Writes

Laika’s latest is subtly subversive and a guaranteed good time

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Missing Link
Opens April 12

The stop-motion specialists at Laika haven’t made a bad movie yet but they struggle to connect with audiences. Their most successful title, Coraline, failed to break the $100 million barrier, a number even Pixar’s most underwhelming movie managed to clear. Three years ago the grim, challenging Kubo and the Two Strings, made only half that.

So it’s no surprise Laika is veering towards simpler stuff. Missing Link is a straight-up comedy, without the moral ambiguity as the company’s other movies.

That said, it still feels rather subversive, given the pounding science and rational thought have taken from conservative creeps in recent years.

Missing Link’s hero is a swashbuckling adventurer who stands for evolution and the scientific method. Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman) has a knack for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, a flaw that’s kept him out of a snooty society of adventurers.

A letter from the Pacific Northwest revealing the existence of the Sasquatch sends Frost on a new adventure worth all his chips: success guarantees membership in the club, failure means he’ll stop applying.

Turns out the Sasquatch is very real: the creature itself sent the letter. The beast (Zack Galifianakis) is a happy-go-lucky, infallibly polite 8-feet-tall cryptid who suffers from chronic loneliness. The Sasquatch offers Sir Lionel a deal: he’ll prove his own existence as long as the explorer gets him to the Himalayas, where his presumed cousins — the Yetis — live.

A world-spanning journey ensues, one in which Frost and the Sasquatch are targeted by an assassin hired by the head of the adventurer’s society, who reveals himself to be… a creationist!!! Well, it is a philosophy for villains.

Missing Link deserves kudos for more than pissing off Mike Pence and his science-bashing cronies. The film pushes for conservation over exploitation, which is apparently radical enough to inspire our country’s conservatives to threaten audits and legislative harassment to anyone who dares disdain drilling, fracking or strip-mining (see: Jason Kenney in Alberta). To underscore the point, the events unfold late in the nineteenth century when England still thought itself an empire. The conflict is embodied by Sir Lionel, initially in it for the fame and fortune. His outlook changes upon realizing his specimens have agency and interests of their own. They are his equals.

While most of the sequences in Missing Link are stop-motion, Laika added a CG component given the film’s larger scope. The increasingly confident animators put together complex action sequences far superior to anything in your average Mark Wahlberg movie, with better acting.

The film’s wokeness is not limited to Darwinism vs. intelligent design. There is a love interest in the film, Adelina (Zoe Saldana), whose independent streak never yields. Adelina is more of a true feminist than Captain Marvel, and she doesn’t remind you of it every five minutes.

Laika has always being great at voice casting. Jackman is excellent at this (shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who saw Flushed Away) and Emma Thompson as the Yeti leader is simply superb. She lands every punchline and gets the movie’s biggest laugh.

While incorporating CGI enhances the outcome, here’s hoping it doesn’t replace the stop-motion charms that have made Laika a household name. If Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse proved anything, it’s that there’s an appetite for animation without round-edges or rosy-cheeked characters. Different is good, and it’s better when it’s smart and righteous.