‘Missing Link” is lesser Laika.
The Oregon-based animation studio that produced the strange and unsettling “Coraline,” the rambunctious “Boxtrolls” and the exquisite “Kubo and the Two Strings” has gone brighter and simpler with “Missing Link.”
Those earlier pictures are tinged with darkness and mystery. This latest Laika is a cheerful, superficial romp filled with slapstick moments including a frontier bar brawl and another fight aboard a storm-tossed ocean liner. It’s a mild, likable movie with few scary bits to speak of, other than scenes of assorted villains falling screaming to their well-deserved doom in a Himalayan abyss.
The cheery spirit is embodied in the title character, an amiable, rotund Sasquatch voiced by Zach Galifianakis. He’s a lonely giant — 8 feet, 630 pounds — who makes his solitary home deep in the woods of Washington state with only his books to keep him company.
Er, say what?
Yes. He reads. He talks (very conversationally.) He writes. And it’s a letter he sends to noted Victorian-era English adventurer Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) telling of his existence that brings the fellow to his woodland home and launches the two of them on a globe-girdling journey to the Himalayas. Objective: to allow Mr. Link (so named by Frost), the last of his kind, to link up with his fabled distant cousins, the Yetis.
The creature yearns for a family connection. Frost yearns for renown and acceptance by the sneering snobs of the snooty Optimates’ Club in London who mock his belief in the existence of a link between animals and man. They’re deadly in their scorn, dispatching a hit man to follow Frost with orders to kill him.
Frost is vastly self-impressed, given to pontificating and striking heroic poses. Jackman voices him with eager gusto. Galifianakis gives Link (who later dubs himself with the name Susan) an innocent buoyancy that helps to deflate Frost whenever the Englishman grows too pompous — which is often.
Assisting in the deflating is tart-tongued, no-nonsense widow Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), who has a map to Yeti-land and also a long-passed romantic connection with Frost that was torpedoed by his narcissism.
They’re a contentious trio, with Frost getting the worst of many of the set-piece slapstick scenes.
Like other Laika pictures, the visuals of “Link” are astonishingly detailed, colorful and distinctive. The human characters are very sharp-featured (chins are so pointed they look like they could etch steel) that offer a telling contrast to the roly-poly appearance of Link/Susan. Their stop-motion movements, the product of painstaking work by Laika crew members, are remarkably smooth.
“Link” is fun as far as it goes, but from Laika we expect something with a little more depth.
★★½ “Missing Link,” with the voices of Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, Zoe Saldana, Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Timothy Olyphant. Written and directed by Chris Butler. 94 minutes. Rated PG for action/peril and some mild rude humor. Opens April 12 at multiple theaters.