The “Missing Link” hasn’t been missing at the local comic book conventions. The three main characters–Mr. Link, Sir Lionel Frost and Adelina Fortnight–were at the September 2018 and February 2019 Long Beach Comic-Cons and March 2019 WonderCon, but this fifth feature film from from LAIKA Studios doesn’t seem to have a particular audience in mind nor a strong storyline to intrigue adults.
This isn’t about family like “Coraline,” “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “ParaNorman” or “The Boxtrolls.” The visuals aren’t as stunning as “Kubo,” nor is this as touching as any of those. In those LAIKA had focused on a child protagonist, but this outing has a trio of adults and is essentially an old-fashioned adventure story tweaked for feminists and animal activists.
In a world where kids have grown up on the Marvel-verse and the DC-verse and in a world where Cosplay as villains is cool, the adventure might not seem exciting enough and the parody depends upon a certain awareness of gentlemen of courage and dare-doing searching for fantastic monsters. Think of the works of H. Rider Haggard, a pioneer in the Lost World genre–Allan Quatermain searching for Solomon’s Mines or a young man looking for his lost love and eternal life (“She”). Much of the gentle humor works in opposition to minds molded on the era of black-batted bad guys and white-hatted good guys of the melodramas of the silent era. The kind of plotting and characters that were parodied in Dudley Do-Right where a dim-witted but ever cheery Canadian Mounty and his horse, Horse, would save Dudley’s gal Nell from the dastardly Snidely Whiplash.
In “Missing Link,” Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman) is our barrel-chested hero, who begins the movie on the trail of the Loch Ness monster. His sidekick gets too close and, working with the clumsy technology of Victorian times, Sir Lionel can’t get a suitable selfie. He needs proof in order to join a club of gentlemen adventurers, The Optimates Club, which is headed by Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry). Having failed to lock on to the Loch Ness creature, and devoid of a sidekick who is quite done with examining the tonsils of ferocious creatures, Sir Lionel gets an intriguing hand written letter. This sends him off, alone, to find Bigfoot, something that he tells the club members before he’s off to the West Coast of the US.
Lord Piggot-Dunceby wants to insure that Lionel fails–he sends a dastardly dude, Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant), to make sure that Sir Lionel fails.
Yet Lionel doesn’t fail. He finds the now nameless Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis) who does indeed have big feet, but also speaks and writes English. With no family, this Missing Link is lonely. Believing that the Yeti in Asia are distant cousins, he asks Lionel to take him there and Lionel knows that his once bosom buddy fellow explorer claimed to have a map. Having lived alone, the Missing Link, now called Mr. Link, is somewhat puzzled by conversation. People don’t mean what they say. When Sir Lionel tells him to throw a rope over a wall, he does just that, but without the possibility of them using it to climb over. Link is very literal minded and is having trouble getting used to wearing clothes.
Before they head off to Asia, they stop off to see Sir Lionel’s ex-gal and the widow of his deceased best bud, Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana). She’s not letting that map out of her hands and won’t be sweet-talked by Sir Lionel so the threesome end up on there way to the fabled city of Shangri-La. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know that unlike the movie “Lost Horizon,” the inhabitants aren’t as gentle or welcoming.
The good thing about this LAIKA tale, is that there are no cute and cuddly characters destined to be marketed to kids. If you’re not into musicals–good or bad–despite the voices of Jackman and Saldana, there are no soaring ballads of angst. One imagines this buddies-on-the-road could be LAIKA’s entry into a gentle adventure series but none of the characters is as engaging or memorable as Disney or Pixar’s stable nor as fun as DreamWorks Kungfu Panda or How to Train Your Dragon series.