It didn’t take long after the movie started for me to realise that Missing Link is a Precipitous Bridge Adventure, and in the second half there is, indeed, a standard issue Precipitous Bridge.
In a Precipitous Bridge Adventure, the bridge must be destroyed before the movie is over. By the same token, my scepticism crumbles before a movie with a fight in an old west saloon, a stormy Atlantic voyage, multiple cryptids, and a mysterious lost world.
Once again, LAIKA has crafted an unmarketable movie, and this time it seems they did so just for me.
Missing Link follows the adventures of Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman), globetrotter and proper English gentleman, who is nevertheless ostracised amongst a Royal Geographic Society-like group of explorers for his views on creatures such as the Loch Ness Monster.
Following another in a line of unfortunate failures, Sir Lionel discovers a letter from America’s Pacific Northwest, whose author claims to have evidence of the elusive Sasquatch. When he presents the opportunity to the explorers, his rival and head of the society Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry) scoffs, but due to his immense pride he hires a hitman to remove the problem of both Sir Lionel and the Big Foot, should he even exist.
So begins the sort of cinematic pulp that drove me to write my very first published review (April and the Extraordinary World), an irrepressible genre that performs terribly at the U.S. box office and nevertheless keeps cropping up because it’s the sort of story that writers, artists, moviemakers and the like always want to tell.
Like the fantastical and in-some-ways esoteric Kubo and the Two Strings, I weep for the sanity of the copywriters who had to market the dang thing because there are no easily sell-able brands, no rapping animals, no iconic costumes. Of course, in this case, Missing Link is the least successful LAIKA production to date, so it’s possible they just did not even try.
In Australia, the movie was practically buried between Shazam! and Avengers Endgame, and as with April, Rango, or The Adventures of Tintin, this isn’t an obvious children’s hit, which tends to sink animated movies in English speaking countries. Missing Link is just near-impossible to sell to a post-1990s public.
The movie is talky, heavy on theme, and beautifully, intricately animated — even as it edges closer to being mostly computer generated scenery with stop-motion main characters. The movie also boasts an alternately humble and thrilling original score from Carter Burwell (that fittingly sounds a lot like his underrated score to True Grit) and a substantially improved narrative structure over the “magic just works this way” nebulousness of Kubo, but these are incremental features and nothing that can easily fit in a two minute trailer.
Much like Kubo, the movie isn’t perfect (what movie is?): there’s an overly telegraphed gag about Sir Lionel’s sexist assumptions of women, and as usual for American animation there’s a not-entirely-necessary Heartless Villain trope when the joy of the adventure itself would suffice. Still, when people worry that movies like Laputa: Castle In The Sky don’t get made any more, I am happy to point them to Missing Link.