Skip to main content

The people we don’t want here are leaving! Force them to stay!

Missing Link
(2019)

(SPOILERS) Laika’s mixed animation fortunes continue, to the extent that it’s difficult to see how they’re going to be able to sustain themselves for much longer. Kubo and the Two Strings was their best feature (closely followed by Coraline), but entirely failed to justify its budget at the box office. Now Missing Link arrives, at a significantly more expensive $100m estimate, and completely flops (a paltry $26m worldwide). The reason? It isn’t a bad movie – certainly more appealing than either ParaNorman or The Boxtrolls, both of which fared much better – so perhaps there’s an aesthetic issue above and beyond their favoured stop-motion medium. It isn’t for nothing that Pixar’s designs are of a ruthlessly audience-friendly ilk.

Of course, Aardman might be argued to have a similar problem with their human characters. Are kids really going to get behind Mr Susan Link, not exactly the cutest looking Bigfoot there is? Which isn’t to suggest Laika shouldn’t stick to their artistic guns, but if that amount of money is going into their features – and surprise, surprise, Annapurna, always with an eye out for a flop, co-financed it – they probably need to be thinking about these things.

Missing Link does feel more like the kind of fare Aardman might have made than any of Laika’s previous pictures; a story of a friendly, educated Bigfoot wishing to find others of his kind, with the help of self-regarding but likeable cryptozoologist explorer Sir Lionel Frost. The screenplay comes from director Chris Butler, who was also responsible for ParaNorman, and while it has its perks, most notably Hugh Jackman’s vocal performance as Sir Lionel (the character even looks a bit like Jackman), for much of the running time it can’t find a footing that would make it really distinctive.

The voice cast are solid picks, with the possible exception of Zach Galifianakis as Link, ensuring an already unremarkable design is given standard-issue comedy character schtick. Zoe Saldana’s Adelina seems to be modelled on Salma Hayek (and Butler remembers the memo that she must be a strong independent movie character woman right at the end when sends her off on her own adventure). Timothy Olyphant is good as the bounty hunter varmint, but underserved a villain who never becomes anything truly enjoyable. Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, Matt Lucas and David Walliams also appear in minor parts.

The proceedings take Sir Lionel from Loch Ness to the Pacific Northwest, to California, to the Himalayas and Shangri La, and for 95% of the running time, there’s nothing that outright fails, but nothing that really hits the bull’s eye either (although, the opening with the monster suggests Missing Link will be sharper and more idiosyncratic than it is, with Sir Lionel instructing his assistant to “Break out the bagpipes” in order to attract Nessie). There are numerous amusing sight gags (during a free-for-all barfight, one of the pugilists sets upon a moose head) and there’s a chicken gag, which is essential for a self-respecting animation. It isn’t one of the best, though, with wise elder Gamu wearing one on her head (during this sequence, Link also eats some yak poo cookies, so there are additional points for requisite excrement gags). “There was a nun. We mugged her” is also the kind of irreverence that should be compulsory in a kids’ movie,

But Missing Link only truly comes into its own during a superbly executed (literal) cliffhanger climax, juggling elements of various parties dangling, dangling, attached to other parties in danger of being prevented from clinging on to a Himalayan cliff. It’s up there with the very best animated sequences ever, and on that basis alone makes it easy to see why the movie merited an Oscar nomination. Missing Link is missing something overall – inspiration goes walkabout somewhere along the line – but it’s worth it for the big finish.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a cultural misunderstanding.

Mars Attacks! (1996) (SPOILERS) Ak. Akk-akk! Tim Burton’s gleefully ghoulish sci-fi was his first real taste of failure. Sure, there was Ed Wood , but that was cheap, critics loved it, and it won Oscars. Mars Attacks! was BIG, though, expected to do boffo business, and like more than a few other idiosyncratic spectaculars of the 1990s ( Last Action Hero , Hudson Hawk ) it bombed BIG. The effect on Burton was noticeable. He retreated into bankable propositions (the creative and critical nadir perhaps being Planet of the Apes , although I’d rate it much higher than the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo ) and put the brakes on his undisciplined goth energy. Something was lost. Mars Attacks! is far from entirely successful, but it finds the director let loose with his own playset and sensibility intact, apparently given the licence to do what he will.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

So the devil's child will rise from the world of politics.

The Omen (1976) (SPOILERS) The coming of the Antichrist is an evergreen; his incarnation, or the reveal thereof, is always just round the corner, and he can always be definitively identified in any given age through a spot of judiciously subjective interpretation of The Book of Revelation , or Nostradamus. Probably nothing did more for the subject in the current era, in terms of making it part of popular culture, than The Omen . That’s irrespective of the movie’s quality, of course. Which, it has to be admitted, is not on the same level as earlier demonic forebears Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist .

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

I’m giving you a choice. Either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can.

They Live * (1988) (SPOILERS) Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of They Live – I was a big fan of most things Carpenter at the time of its release – but the manner in which its reputation as a prophecy of (or insight into) “the way things are” has grown is a touch out of proportion with the picture’s relatively modest merits. Indeed, its feting rests almost entirely on the admittedly bravura sequence in which WWF-star-turned-movie-actor Roddy Piper, under the influence of a pair of sunglasses, first witnesses the pervasive influence of aliens among us who are sucking mankind dry. That, and the ludicrously genius sequence in which Roddy, full of transformative fervour, attempts to convince Keith David to don said sunglasses, for his own good. They Live should definitely be viewed by all, for their own good, but it’s only fair to point out that it doesn’t have the consistency of John Carpenter at his very, very best. Nada : I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

What’s so bad about being small? You’re not going to be small forever.

Innerspace (1987) There’s no doubt that Innerspace is a flawed movie. Joe Dante finds himself pulling in different directions, his instincts for comic subversion tempered by the need to play the romance plot straight. He tacitly acknowledges this on the DVD commentary for the film, where he notes Pauline Kael’s criticism that he was attempting to make a mainstream movie; and he was. But, as ever with Dante, it never quite turns out that way. Whereas his kids’ movies treat their protagonists earnestly, this doesn’t come so naturally with adults. I’m a bona fide devotee of Innerspace , but I can’t help but be conscious of its problems. For the most part Dante papers over the cracks; the movie hits certain keynotes of standard Hollywood prescription scripting. But his sensibility inevitably suffuses it. That, and human cartoon Martin Short (an ideal “leading man” for the director) ensure what is, at first glance just another “ Steven Spielberg Presents ” sci-fi/fantas