Missing Link (2019)

Modern animated movies remind me of a lazy mantra I heard back in college:  “C’s get degrees.”  If you can’t be great, just be good enough. Smallfoot, Wonder Park, and many others land smack in the terrain just above Double Secret Probation.  Any movie that doesn’t completely phone it in looks positively brilliant by comparison.  That’s precisely where we’ll stick Missing Link, a fairly decent flick that accomplishes a lot by simply trying a little harder than most of its peers:  The gags are a little better, the dialogue pops a little more, and the action has a dash of extra imagination to it.  Spectacular stop-motion animation doesn’t hurt its case, either.

The story transports us to Victorian England, where Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) scours the countryside for rare beasts, such as the Loch Ness Monster.  Frost seeks the approval of a starchy squad of aristocratic explorers, who’ve branded him a crackpot.  Soon, a tantalizing letter arrives, proclaiming the possible existence of a Sasquatch in the Pacific Northwest.  Frost strikes a bargain with the rooty-tooty powdered wig-wearers:  If he can show them proof of this mountain monster, then Frost’s acceptance in snobby society is finally assured.  When Frost eventually tracks the Sasquatch, he is surprised to find that Bigfoot (Zach Galifianakis) is actually an articulate being, nebbish and affable.  The Beast (who chooses the name Susan) pleads with Frost to guide him to the Himalayas, where he can meet up with his Yeti cousins.  Frost senses an opportunity for further personal glory, and enlists an ex-flame (Zoe Saldana) to help in his quest.

Most of this plot exists to fuel cute scenes between the dashing, urbane Sir Frost and sweet, bumbly Susan.  Jackman does fine work, balancing Frost’s bombastic ambition with a gently irresistible charisma.  Galifianakis has forged a nice career playing well-meaning doofuses, so much that this role seems tailored to him.   Saldana doesn’t have much to do, other than show varying degrees of consternation with the two protagonists, but she does it well.

After a deluge of digital animation, the stop-motion work here feels like a nice palate cleanser.  The filmmakers do a great job of endowing every character with subtle tics that deepen the sense of realism.  This’ll be a nerdy thing to say, but the set-design in Missing Link is something to behold:  Long-ago London, the gorgeous pinery of Washington State, even the permafrost of the Himalayas all get created in stunning detail.  This is a fun movie to simply watch.

All that said, Missing Link succeeds largely because it realizes that animated movies don’t necessarily have to be cinematic junk food.  It tells an ambling story with intelligence and gusto.  This may not be a masterpiece, but pretty good beats the holy hell out of barely average.  I’m happy to give Missing Link a B+ and a spot on the Dean’s List.

(Missing Link is rated PG, but I would say it’s safe for all ages.  I mean, Nutcracker and the Four Realms was also PG, and it had that giant writhing rat monster.  That thing was so gross, it almost put me right off my Skittles.)

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Author: Todd Wofford

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