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Missing Link (Blu-ray Review)

At the time of this writing, a CG remake of The Lion King is on its way to becoming one of the biggest films of the year, while another acclaimed, original Laika feature came and went in theaters. It’s a real shame, as Laika is great with combining dry humor and visual wonder. The stop-motion animation studio has produced films about alternate dimensions, zombies, underground creatures, and Japanese mysticism, which all build fantastical worlds around relatable characters who accept and move along with these wild developments. Missing Link is not too different, as it even opens with a well-dressed explorer passively taking on the Loch Ness Monster. Moreover, once the film gets in gear, it becomes a road trip movie about unlikely friends taking on adventures as they come. There’s silliness to be found, but the attitude feels so distinct for the studio. And yet, audiences just aren’t getting the push needed to see these movies in theaters. Well, now Missing Link is on Blu-ray.

Film:

The film stars Hugh Jackman as Sir Lionel Frost, a myths and monsters investigator who has spent much of his adult life attempting to gain higher status amongst his peers, who have achieved success by sticking with the old ways of doing and accepting things. When Lionel receives a message concerning the legendary Bigfoot, he sets off to the Pacific Northwest to find the creature. As it turns out, Bigfoot (or Mr. Link, as Lionel dubs him) does exist and is voiced with proper naivety by Zach Galifianakis. The two make a deal to travel together to prove the small-minded explorers wrong, as well as connect Mr. Link to his proper brethren.

At five movies in, I am happy to count on Laika to deliver several great elements – story, character, visuals, and themes. Director/writer Chris Butler (ParaNorman) had a distinct vision in mind for Missing Link, but it’s not too different from previous Laika productions. There is a clever story being told, which relies on a partnership and how their dynamic builds a solid foundation for a fun relationship between the two. And then you have the themes, which are generally rooted in sociological observations. It’s quite fitting to have an anthropologist being the one to realize he’s working too hard to be accepted by gatekeepers into their old boys’ club. Perhaps this element isn’t as sharp as some of Laika’s previous features, but Missing Link is looser than those other films.

With the lack of a child as the lead character this time around, Missing Link provides Laika the opportunity to make their first “adult” comedy. That’s not to say there is a limit on slapstick humor, sight gags, and funny banter. If anything, Missing Link may be the studio’s funniest film on the jokes-per-minute scale. Really, by having a focus on adult characters, the film has less of a need to provide complex moralizing that has been expertly infused within a story fit for a younger audience. Sure, some lessons are learned, and the film is sweet and distinct enough to still work for all ages, but fewer steps with Jackman’s initially self-centered Lionel are genuinely needed to understand the message.

Instead, Missing Link works hardest to serve as a fun adventure story about outsiders, which eventually includes Zoe Saldana’s Adelina Fortnight, a free-spirit who’s handy in a fight, and likely the smartest of the three. As a travelogue, Laika’s biggest animation challenge this time around seems to have been developing so many different locations. Set during the Victorian era, you have detailed urban environments, along with forests, jungles, snowy mountains, and more. It’s a visual feat so grand that a shot of the trio riding an elephant is as impressively big as it is merely a way to move characters from one scene to the next. For all the animation innovation the studio has relied on, I never stop thinking about all the time that goes into crafting these various sequences.

Keeping the visual focus in mind, Mr. Link is another stunning creation. His fur has the appearance of leaves draped over a massive body in a film very much holding onto an autumnal aesthetic (which is shared with most of Laika’s films). Even the clothing Mr. Link wears has a fun way of fitting on the character. Given how all of the Victorian era costumes for these uniquely sized and shaped characters are hand-crafted, I see no reason why Missing Link would not be just as eligible for a Best Costume Design Oscar nomination as any other period film that arrives this year. Regardless, in creating a memorable character, the look has indeed been accomplished.

Matching performance to that look is another matter. Imbued with a literal-minded (but not dim) personality, Mr. Link comes across as a much friendlier Drax from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. The visual of this Bigfoot character is impressive, but his reactions to the world around him, especially once he comes out of his forest, speaks to the childlike wonder many could have in exploring new areas for the first time. Fittingly, Jackson’s ability as a great…showman works as a fine counter. Not unlike P.T. Barnum or Robert Angier from The Prestige, Jackman finds the right notes to play as far as being both fascinated by what he sees before his eyes and clever enough to talk his way through exciting scenarios and incidents.

Other actors share in the delight of what this film has to offer in their own ways. Saldana does what’s needed to relate to Mr. Link, while begrudgingly allowing Lionel to move forward in his headstrong ways. Stephen Fry is the latest aristocratic bully in a Laika film, making ridiculous choices with too much confidence, with the right animations to emphasize these qualities. Emma Thompson shows up in a neat revel and plays up the drollness of her character to a hilarious degree. And Timothy Olyphant gets to have a lot of fun as an evil assassin whose principles are malleable.

While not a heavily populated cast, Missing Link spends its time working as a fun character comedy full of imagination. It doesn’t come up short on goofiness either. While it has a nice story to tell as far as acceptance and breaking down walls placed up against a progressive culture, there is plenty of silliness to enjoy as well. Laika is not above having that kind of fun, but the studio does have a fine amount of control over what they bring to their craft. Missing Link is another wonderfully animated feature that places plenty of emphasis on the design work viewed on screen. It’s also hilarious, which is a good thing, as no one wants to hang around a sad bigfoot.

 

Video:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Clarity/Detail: The great thing about Laika films is the handmade quality of the features. For a Blu-ray release, it means having a chance to observe the fine level of detail that comes with their productions. You can really see all the little elements that helped bring this film to life, from the puppet designs to the various pieces of stitching on all the costumes. It all comes through quite clear and looks terrific thanks to a great transfer.

Depth: Depth of field is captured well here, with a level of dimensionality that comes across effectively. A stop-motion animated film like this has to be carefully framed, which all comes across great on this release.

Black Levels: Shadow and black levels are terrific throughout. The Victorian setting allows for a lot of unique architectural ideas, and the environments we see do a lot to speak to the lighting aspects, so there’s plenty to admire in the way darkness is handled.

Color Reproduction: Colors look great. Costume design stands out especially, given how period-appropriate everything looks. Plus, just the look of these characters feels perfectly handled here. Laika truly knows how to shine in making unique worlds, and the colors on display is a big part of that.

Flesh Tones: N/A

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

 

Audio:

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos, English Descriptive Audio 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics: Imagine my surprise when Missing Link arrived with a Dolby Atmos audio track. Given the adventurous nature of this film, there is plenty to enjoy as far as the audio mixing for this terrific soundtrack. The Carter Burwell score is fantastic, but the way this film relies on real sounds to add to every environment we see is splendid as well.

Low-Frequency Extension: The score has moments to challenge the LFE channel, as well as a couple of major action sequences. In particular, one sequences is set during a storm, on a large ship, and it has plenty to offer for your sub-woofer.

Surround Sound Presentation: The film is front and center-focused, but you have plenty go on as far as the surrounding atmosphere. The balance is excellent, as you are never at a loss for getting to hear who is speaking, while still taking in the world around these characters.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone, man, Sasquatch, and Yeti, is heard loud and clear.

 

Extras:

There is one pretty great feature, as it involves matching the film to the inspiration and production, which is cool for something like this. That said that featurette, along with the others, are all far too short, which is a shame. That said, there’s a nice selection of extras here, and the commentary is a nice touch as well.

Features Include:

  • Commentary by Director Chris Butler – Butler goes over all the production details, inspirations, and thoughts on the characters and story ideas that led to the final results. Butler, much like the film, has a dry sense of humor, but this is still an engaging listen.
  • Creating Mr. Link (HD, 1:23) – A look at the design of Mr. Link, and why it’s different from other puppets.
  • Bringing the Final Battle on the Ice Bride to Life (HD, 1:46) – Missing Link features an awe-inspiring action climax, and it’s nice to have a featurette exploring how it came to be, however briefly.
  • Animation Inspiration (HD, 3:44) – Honestly, all stop-motion animated features should have something like what we see here. This is a neat feature that includes some picture-in-picture looks at what went into the making of the film, the look of it, and more. Featuring optional commentary by director Chris Butler.
  • VFX Breakdown Reel – Realizing the Potential of Stop Motion (HD, 6:05) – A look at the various ways inserting visual effects helps add to scenes, let alone provides an understanding of how intricate these stop-motion animated films are.
  • Oh What A Mystery: Pulling the Camera Back on Missing Link’s Magic (HD, 2:25) – Walter Martin’s wonderful closing credits song is set to a giant montage reel of time-lapse sequences showing the stop-motion animation work. This is terrific to watch.
  • Making Faces (HD, 0:46) – A look at the production of the 3D printed faces, which proves to be a funny little segment.
  • Inside the Magic of Laika (HD, 2:46) – The various cast and filmmakers from Laika talk about what makes the studio special.
  • Gallery (HD)
  • Theatrical Trailers (HD)
  • DVD Copy of the Film
  • Digital HD Copy of the Film

 

Summary:

I was a big fan of Missing Link. It showed me, once again, how Laika found a way to evolve, while still putting out an original story. Even if it’s not their best effort, the film is still well worth watching for all the creative ways it works as an animated feature. Additionally, there’s an excellent technical presentation available on this Blu-ray, along with a nice selection of extras to help round out the package. If you want to enjoy a fun adventure story, there’s plenty to like here.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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