'Missing Link' Early Buzz: LAIKA Delivers A Visual Feast But Only An Appetizer Of A Story

LAIKA is back with another stop-motion animated adventure, Missing Link. But unlike their previous films, this is the first time the protagonist of the movie isn't a kid. Instead, we follow adventurer Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) as he traverses the world in search of mythical and elusive creatures. So it's wonderful that he runs into the famous Missing Link (Zach Galifianakis), who is in search of other creatures just like him.

The first Missing Link reviews have hit the web, and while it sounds like LAIKA has delivered another beautiful piece of stop-motion animation that continues to push the medium to new horizons, it would seem the story doesn't quite match up to the strengths of their previous efforts. But that doesn't make for a disappointing experience overall.

David Ehrlich at IndieWire seems to be the most enamored by Missing Link, though he still notes a couple issues:

"Laika's fifth feature may lack the weight and urgency of the studio's previous work, but it reaffirms the studio's commitment to a future that comes in all shapes and sizes. Like the computer-generated animation preferred by Laika's contemporaries, the Optimates Club might seem to have a stranglehold on the future, but "Missing Link" crafts a different outlook for those who choose to see it. By the very nature of their immaculately designed worlds, Laika's films contend that creating your own identity isn't easy, but it's better than being defined by someone else. It's not the most original message, but "Missing Link" makes a singular argument that any other way of thinking is positively unevolved."

Simon Thompson at IGN thinks it's another win for LAIKA:

"Missing Link is another example of Laika raising its bar again. Hugh Jackman's Frost and Zach Galifianakis' Mr. Link are a formidable pairing with Zoe Saldana's Fortnight adding something extra that really makes the journey a joy to go on. Anchored by first-rate storytelling, Missing Link is another jewel in the crown for Laika that leaves you satisfied and still ready for more."

Jesse Hassenger at The AV Club notes the film's shortcomings, but finds they may not entirely be worth complaining about:

"The world of Missing Link feels a little more fleeting, a little less rooted in characterization, at least on first viewing. The character population also feels sparser, maybe because the relationship between Frost (who is terrible at considering the feelings of others, but basically a good man) and Susan (who is literal-minded, but not incompetent) is a little soft, even polite. Their dynamic is charming, to be sure, and a welcome respite from the forced buddy routine of so many animated comedies. It's just closer to second-tier Aardman drollery than a top-shelf comic duo. Missing Link is only—only!—a sweet, distinctively animated bit of all-ages entertainment. That it's appropriate for an even younger audience than their past triumphs makes it a valuable point of indoctrination, too. Complaining about the exact size and specifications of another Laika miracle may be beside the point."

Peter Debruge at Variety thinks the high quality animation almost does a disservice to the story:

"All the humans boast memorable, visually humorous looks, with marzipan-colored skin and long, reddish noses, which give off a rosy pink glow when backlit by the sun. In fact, so much attention has gone into the design, performance, and amusingly asymmetrical facial expressions of these characters that the script feels anemic by comparison. In that department, the film seems a little familiar, leaning too heavily on silly wordplay and a constant stream of jokes, as if overcompensating for a certain lack of excitement."

Michael Rechtshaffen at The Hollywood Reporter wasn't quite as impressed:

"Missing Link, a globe-trotting Victorian-era adventure that, while often a magnificent sight to behold, never goes the distance in terms of engaging characters and involving plotting. Additionally frustrating matters is the artistic decision to combine the heavily stylized humans and animals with photo-real elements like fabrics and weaponry, which, while making a bold statement, can also be jarringly distracting. The end result, especially coming after 2016's highly rewarding Kubo and the Two Strings, can't help but feel like a let-down."

Yolanda Mochado at The Wrap came away wishing for more too:

"Writer-director Chris Butler ("ParaNorman") excels in his decision to direct the story with gorgeous, bright, bold colors but seems to flounder in telling his story in a way that resonates for children and adults. His script seems aimed at elementary school-aged children, with light-hearted and easy humor, but it fails to hold interest beyond a few scenes. As a parent, my problem with this kind of writing style is that it sacrifices story and entertainment by forgetting that children, especially modern children, are intelligent enough to grasp more complete narratives; they can sit through a film that is witty enough to amuse adults just as much as it does kids.  It's a unique balance, granted, but it wasn't met here."

John Nugent at Empire also noted that the story may have been too simple, even if it was deliberate:

"While technically and artistically uninhibited, it is, admittedly, narratively more low key. Perhaps that's deliberate, a counterbalance to the visual excitement. The story feels simple, even a little slight: the real adventure was inside them all along! But when you have such strong, disarming character work; such clever, subtle nods to the crimes of colonialism and old world conservatism; and such gorgeous art direction, the kind that swells the heart and nourishes the soul; you realise that Laika are a true treasure. Here's hoping that flame is burning for some time to come."

Adam Woodward at Little White Lies was also let down a little bit:

"Writer/director Chris Butler and his crew of animators, VFX artists, model makers and graphic designers created a staggering 110 sets with 65 unique locations over the course of the production. Yet for all the love, care and craft that has evidently gone into rounding out the world of the film, the characters who occupy it are conspicuously two-dimensional. This swashbuckling stop-motion adventure is a lot of fun, but its cartoonish protagonists are easily forgotten (Zoe Saldana's feisty heroine, Adelina Fortnight, feels especially superfluous), and although the emotional finale takes place in the highest mountain range on earth, the film arguably reaches its dramatic peak during that breathless opening set-piece. On a visual level, though, Missing Link is a rare and wonderful specimen."


Honestly, when it comes to the work of LAIKA, each movie is such a miracle that it's fine to forgive some of the shortcomings mentioned here. Sure, you always wish for the best and want filmmakers to deliver something that checks all the boxes, but that doesn't mean you can't still appreciate the overall viewing experience. Missing Link sounds like it'll land with longtime LAIKA fans and give them exactly the kind of visually stunning adventure they're looking for.

Missing Link arrives in theaters on April 12, 2019.