MISSING LINK - Finding Your Place in the World
Missing Link, another gem from Laika, takes elements of classic adventure motifs and spins them into a story about belonging.
Realease Date: April 7th, 2019
Date of My First Viewing: August 28th, 2019
Finding one’s place in the world can be a daunting task. Finding one’s place in the world when you’re a Sasquatch and, seemingly, the only of your kind can be, pardon the pun, a much bigger task. This is the central theme of Missing Link, the 2019 stop-motion animated film from director Chris Butler and Laika. Using old style adventure story motifs, such as tales of lost cities and grand expeditions, Missing Link gives the an audience a thought-provoking tale about identity and belonging. This, of course, is all done with a pleasing dash of comedy and some great voice characterizations.
The plot of Missing Link revolves around the exploits of Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman), an adventurer who specializes in trying to find creatures of myth and fantasy. This puts him at odds with Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry), the snobbish leader of the “Society of Great Men”, an adventurers’ club that Lionel desperately wants to be a part of and accepted into. After receiving a letter confirming the existence of Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis), Frost makes a deal with Dunceby that would grant him membership if he can produce evidence of Sasquatch’s existence. As Frost sets out to find Sasquatch, Dunceby dispatches bounty hunter Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant) to eliminate Frost before he can challenge the old ways of the society.
One would think the search for Sasquatch is the key plot of this movie, and one would be wrong. Lionel finds him relatively quickly because Sasquatch, or Mr. Link, or Susan (As we learn later in the film) is the one who wrote Lionel the letter in the first place. Susan is a kind-hearted creature and the last of his kind. Being well-read, he wants to travel to the Himalayas to find the Yeti, who he believes are his cousins. This introduces the character of Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), a former girlfriend of Lionel’s and the widow of his former friend. She has in possession a map, created by her late husband, that will lead to the Himalayas and Shangri-La. After a failed attempt at stealing the map, Lionel agrees to Adelina’s demands that she join the expedition to help Susan find his new home.
I’ll leave the plot there because that should give you a general idea of what this movie is about. It’s not about finding Sasquatch. It’s about Sasquatch finding who he really is. Susan begins the film without a name. Lionel calls him Mr. Link in a play on Missing Link, but that’s not enough. He eventually settles on the name Susan for a reason that’s wonderfully explained, and that gives him a big chunk of his identity. Susan’s quest to find his relatives among the Yeti is the other big chunk regarding his identity. That is where he thinks he belongs. It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out the film doesn’t take the simple route. There’s a lesson to be learned when the expedition travels to Shangri-La, and it’s not exactly the one Susan was expecting.
Susan’s quest for belonging parallel’s Lionel’s quest for belonging, and the film doesn’t miss an opportunity to point this out. Adelina brings this up to Lionel and forces him to come to grips with why he wants to be a part of such a backwards and regressive society. Lionel, as someone searching for new and mysterious creatures, thinks he deserves a place among the “Society of Great Men”. He’s blind to their regressive ways, which are rooted as deep into the concepts of colonialism and elitism as humanly possible. I mean Dunceby often speaks of “civilized society” and “preserving what is”. Adelina and Susan both help Lionel evolve into his rightful place in a new world.
On top of the good lessons the film is trying to teach, the technical artistry of Missing Link is stunning. That should be expected at this point from Laika, though. Their previous film, Kubo and the Two Strings, is and will forever be a masterpiece in my eyes. That film showed the studio is at its best when creating an epic fantasy world and bringing it to life through stop-motion animation. Missing Link exists in a rather realistic stetting of the late 19th century, but it still does take a trip down fantasy lane in the last act. When things move to the Himalayas and the realm of the Yeti, the creativity of Laika really shines. The detail work and creativity on display is breathtaking, and it continues to fuel my desire to see Laika, somehow, take on a film adaptation of The Legend of Zelda.
I know that’s probably going to be difficult for a number of reasons, including the box-office take Missing Link produced. This movie, sadly, flopped severely on its release. As a fan of Sasquatch, Big Foot, and all other assorted creatures, I had planned on seeing it in the theaters, but I never got around to doing so. It seems no one else did, and the release date of right before Avengers: Endgame didn’t do the film any favors. I sincerely hope we get more from Laika in the future because, in a perfect world, their creativity shouldn’t be snuffed out because of this film’s poor financial returns. Unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect world, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens.
Looking back, I really should have seen this film in the theater setting when I had the chance. I normally don’t do films this recent for “Movies New to Me”, but my love of Kubo and the Two Strings said I should devote the time to seeing what Missing Link was about. Missing Link is about a lot of important things that should resonate with people of all ages. We all think we might belong to one thing, but the journey of life will tell us we really belong elsewhere. That’s not a bad thing because the journey really is what shapes us along the way.