Tired of living a solitary life in the Pacific Northwest, Mr Link, who is 8 feet tall and covered in fur, recruits fearless explorer Sir Lionel Frost to guide him on a journey to find his long-lost relatives in the fabled valley of Shangri-La. Along with adventurer Adelina Fortnight, the trio encounters their fair share of peril as they travel to the far reaches of the world. Through it all, they learn that sometimes one can find a family in the places one least expects.
Initial release: April 4, 2019 (Russia)
Director: Chris Butler
Distributed by: United Artists Releasing
Production companies: Laika, Annapurna Pictures
Producers: Travis Knight, Arianne Sutner
The fifth feature from stop-motion animation studio Laika (Coraline, Kubo and the Two Strings) is a witty, nimble dismantling of British colonialism. Victorian explorer Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) seeks a mythical Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis), a marzipan-textured Bigfoot resembling a giant pine cone with a monkey’s snout and an affable, human smile. The Sasquatch can talk (and write!), goes by the name of Susan, and wishes only to be escorted to Shangri-La to reunite with his Yeti cousins. Frost’s motivations are selfish: he simply wants in on a member’s club at the mercy of gatekeeper Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry). His ex-lover Adelina (Zoe Saldana) is both travel companion and educator, criticising his sneering, entitled colonial attitude towards their new friend (“You poke him with your stick, call him names, say he smells, treat him like your slave!”). Even more satisfyingly tongue-in-cheek is when Piggot-Dunceby climbs on a table, shoes on, proudly exclaiming that “We’ve taught British table manners to savages!” Yet the film feels more like an elbow in the ribs than a slap on the wrist, revelling in the miscommunications between Susan the Sasquatch’s literal-minded monkey brain (“You don’t say!” jokes Frost. “I do!” he replies).
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Missing Link, the New York City premiere of Laika’s fifth stop-motion animated film served as quite the pay-off for years of meticulous work.
“It is a long, long, slow process,” Butler told The Hollywood Reporter about stop-motion on Sunday. “This one took about five years. Even before that, I was working on the script years before. The shooting itself takes about two years. So it’s long, it’s slow, but we all love it.”
According to Arianne Sutner, one of the film’s producers and Laika’s head of production, the Missing Link team would often only end up with a single second of animation per week.
“I love a challenge. I love every movie that we’ve done and I’ve been here for all of them,” she said. “One is more challenging than the next, and sometimes you think you’re not sure what you’re going to do. But I’ve been working with an incredible crew, so it’s fun to figure out things that we think we’ll never be able to bring to the screen, together.”
Missing Link comes more than a decade after Laika’s first feature, Coraline. The studio’s other films have taken on Coraline’s same kind of dark storytelling, but Missing Link — which follows investigator Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman), Sasquatch Mr Link. (Zach Galifianakis) and adventurer Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana) as they set out to find Frost’s long-lost relatives — is much more lighthearted.
We intentionally want to do one movie that’s different than the next,” Sutner told THR. “This one definitely has a brighter, lighter vibe and color palette. It was kind of refreshing.”
She added, “It’s pretty fun to start something that looks entirely different in terms of your design choices. I don’t know if the practice of making it was commensurate with the light feeling of it, but it’s just really fun and refreshing to try something visually that’s really different.”
The film’s composer, Carter Burwell, also took on a different process than he’s used to.
“Generally I work on mostly live-action films. I wait until there’s an edit of a film, they give it to me, and I start thinking about what’s appropriate and start working on it. But in this case, it’s different because it takes so many years to make a film with this process, that I would get, like, a scene or just a bit of a character; things like that. And I had to begin when they were really just pencil drawings,” Burwell said. “But the cool thing is I got to watch the film develop over the course of years. A new cut would come in, and I’d say, ‘Wow, I had no idea the background was going to be like that.’ It was pretty interesting.”
Many of the actors voicing characters in Missing Link were able to observe the film’s transformation, too. Timothy Olyphant compared the Portland-located studio to “Santa’s workshop.”
“Animated movies don’t do what a lot of live-action movies with big, giant budgets do,” he told THR. “They haven’t even really figured them out and they’ve already started making them. These movies really have to go through this process.”
Olyphant continued, “I think it’s no accident that there’s so many great, great classic animated movies. I think the process sort of forces it.”
Saldana not only praised Missing Link’s animation, but urged audiences to support Laika, because it should “live forever.”
“Stop-motion is an amazing form of animation that appeals to all audiences,” she said, adding that she was “repurposed” and “reinspired” after meeting the film’s animators.