Oregon-based animation company Laika Studios excels with truly impressive stop-motion animated features.
“Missing Link,” its fifth movie, perhaps does not plumb the depths of profundity that “Coraline” and “ParaNorman” did, but it’s a funny, great-looking, fast-moving and delightfully likable adventure.
Among today’s many top-notch animated movie creators, Laika has cornered the market in one way: by encouraging quiet, restrained voices. (The exquisite “Kubo and the Two Strings” featured surprisingly soft, touching performances from Matthew McConaughey and Charlize Theron.)
The trend continues in “Missing Link,” whose thoughtful characters grow more appealing as the movie goes on.
Hugh Jackman is the voice of Sir Lionel Frost, a self-styled English adventurer and monster hunter who longs to join a prestigious London adventurers club, which refuses him, since its members don’t believe in such myths.
Written and directed by Chris Butler (“ParaNorman”), “Missing Link” opens with Frost and his valet rowing onto Loch Ness in the night, seeking proof of the monster therein. Frost plays some bagpipes, the monster surfaces and scoops the valet into its jaws.
The unflappable Frost muses, “Hmm. Carnivore,” before diving to save his man. But their photographic proof is destroyed.
He receives a letter about a Sasquatch sighting and, undeterred, makes a deal with the club’s Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry) that if he can bring back proof, he can finally join.
Frost finds his Sasquatch (voiced sweetly by Zach Galifianakis), who speaks English, and who wrote the letter himself. Rather than capture the beast and return home, Frost actually listens.
The Sasquatch, called “Mr. Link,” wants Frost’s help to get to a secret spot in the Himalayas, where others like him live, and where he might fit in.
To get there, Frost must obtain a map from Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), the feisty widow of a former colleague, which is easier said than done, since she hates him. She demands to join the adventure as well.
Their way is impeded by a Western-style gunslinger Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant) and a thug hired by Piggot-Dunceby to kill Frost, and probably Mr. Link as well.
While “Missing Link” is impressively handmade (closing credits show the behind-the-scenes of one spectacular shot), it doesn’t look it. Polished but palpable, its views of the world (from the Wild West to jungles of India to snowy Himalayan mountains) feel more real than those of a typical computer-generated movie.
Its story, though, doesn’t dig deep, basically offering kid-movie morals about being true to yourself and finding your own family of like-minded misfits rather than trying to fit in.
Other Laika movies, about facing death, venture further and are braver, while “Missing Link” is more about going on a ride. It’s a little like an Indiana Jones movie with some James Bond and Western gunslinger thrown in.
Due to its light themes, “Missing Link” will no doubt be viewed as a minor entry in the studio’s catalogue. But it’s essential, every now and again, to take a day off from the darkness.
Three and a half stars
Starring: Voices of Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, Zoe Saldana, Timothy Olyphant
Written and directed by: Chris Butler
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes