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

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

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.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

So long, sky trash!

Star Wars The Saga Ranked
This is an update of my 2018 ranking, with the addition of highly-acclaimed The Rise of Skywalker along with revisits to the two preceding parts of the trilogy. If you want to be generous and call it that, since the term it makes it sound a whole lot more coherent than it plays.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008)
(SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog. 

Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has cause to be, as does any re…

Man, that’s one big bitch cockroach.

Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Everyone loves Bruce Campbell. He’s eminently lovable; self-depracating, a natural wit, enthusiastic about his “art” and interactive with his fans. It’s easy to be seduced into cutting anything he shows up in some slack, just by virtue of his mighty Bruce-ness. I know, I’ve done it. Unfortunately, not everything he does has the crazy, slapstick energy of his most famous role. Most of it doesn’t. Don Cascarelli’s Elvis versus Mummy movie has a considerable cult following, based as much on the cult of Don as the cult of Bruce, but its charms are erratic ones. As usual, however, Campbell is the breezy highlight.

The blames rests with Cascarelli, since he adapted Joe R. Lansdale’s short story. The premise is a great high concept mash-up; Elvis Presley, a nursing home resident in declining health, must fight off an ancient Egyptian mummy. Is he really Elvis, or Elvis impersonator Sebastian Haff? Or both, as the King claims to have switched places with the real Haff so as t…

It looks like we’ve got another schizoid embolism!

Total Recall (1990)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven offered his post-mortem on the failures of the remakes of Total Recall (2012) and Robocop (2013) when he suggested “They take these absurd stories and make them too serious”. There may be something in this, but I suspect the kernel of their issues is simply filmmakers without either the smarts or vision, or both, to make something distinctive from the material. No one would have suggested the problem with David Cronenberg’s prospective Total Recall was over-seriousness, yet his version would have been far from a quip-heavy Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars (as he attributes screenwriter Ron Shusset’s take on the material). Indeed, I’d go as far as saying not only the star, but also the director of Total Recall (1990) were miscast, making it something of a miracle it works to the extent it does.