Sir Lionel Frost has been doggedly pursuing countless mythical creatures in an attempt to join a society of great men led by his rival, Lord Piggot-Dunceby. His last attempt at discovering the Loch Ness Monster resulted in a resounding failure, for his camera was shattered by the creature. With nothing to show for their endeavor and nearly having been eaten by the monster, Frost’s investigative partner quits. While considering his next course of action, Frost discovers a letter from somebody claiming they have irrefutable proof of Sasquatch’s existence, asking him to come to the state of Washington. He then makes a deal with Piggot-Dunceby that would allow him to join the society if he can prove the creature is real.
Although it was outright stated by the poster, the first major twist of Missing Link is that the Sasquatch is a sentient being. In fact, he was the one who sent Frost the letter in the first place. He learned to read, write, and even play chess due to a shaman he met some time in the past. The Sasquatch sent the letter to Frost to ask for his help. He is the only one of his kind, and wants to find others like him. There is only one place on Earth that is even rumored to have creatures similar to Sasquatch: the Himalayas. The Asian mountain range is said to be the home of the Yeti, though no human has ever encountered them with tangible proof of their existence. Realizing the two of them can help each other out, Frost agrees to take the Sasquatch, whom he dubs Mr. Link, to the Yeti’s civilization: the mythical city of Shangri-La.
Frost then realizes his only lead for finding the city of Shangri-La is a map to the Himalayas. It is currently in the possession of a former lover – Adelina Fortnight. He attempts to charm Fortnight, but she sees right through his ruse and throws him out. Frost and Mr. Link attempt to break into the safe containing the map, but the latter ends up making too much noise, alerting Fortnight to their plan. They escape with the map when the safe is shattered in the aftermath, but Fortnight catches up and insists on coming along for the journey.
It is revealed shortly after Frost leaves on his journey that Piggot-Dunceby has no intention of letting the explorer succeed in his mission. Despite being the leader of a society of ostensibly promoting enlightenment and knowledge, the man is highly chauvinistic and backwards-looking. He curses the world rapidly changing around him, lamenting the invention of electricity and society embracing universal suffrage. To prevent Frost from making a mockery of the society he spent his life painstakingly constructing, Piggot-Dunceby has hired a bounty hunter by the name of Willard Stenk to kill Frost.
With his short stature and even shorter fuse, Stenk brings to mind the classic Looney Tunes character Yosemite Sam, though he proves to be a bit more intimidating than his comically inept spiritual predecessor. Though he is prone to comical antics like any good villain from a work of Western animation, he never stops being a credible threat. He’s intelligent, ruthless, and harrowingly persistent, following Frost, Mr. Link, and Fortnight to the ends of the Earth. Even when his employer falls to his death from a crumbling bridge late in the film, he refuses to abandon his quarry. Fittingly, his pride winds up being his undoing. He meets the same fate as his employer when he could just as easily have shown a semblance of pragmatism by walking away from the situation.
Though having good antagonists certainly helps raise the stakes, what truly makes Missing Link a quality experience is its three lead characters. Hugh Jackman’s performance lends Frost a lot of charisma, yet he is also a rather selfish individual. This is especially obvious in the opening scene wherein he ends up being rather callous about the prospect of his partner getting eaten alive by the Loch Ness Monster, merely deducing it must be a carnivore. His desire to find these mythical creatures would doubtlessly be of a tremendous boon to the scientific community, but what truly drives him is the desire to put his name in the history books. At the same time, he is never portrayed as entirely uncaring about others. When his partner is taken by the Loch Ness Monster, he springs into action and saves him. Though he disdainfully notes one course of action he must take is decidedly altruistic, that is precisely what he becomes by the end of the film.
Mr. Link, who later adopts the name of a prospector he met in the past named Susan, is a good foil to the more self-centered Frost. He is exceedingly polite and well-mannered, which is a direct contrast to his monstrous appearance. Having zero experience in human society, he also tends to take everything at face value. He interprets expressions literally, which leads to many humorous moments that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Laurel and Hardy sketch. To wit, when they attempt to break into Fortnight’s compound, he is instructed to throw the rope over the wall. Susan then proceeds to throw the entire rope to the other side, oblivious to the fact that they wouldn’t be able to utilize it in such a state.
Finally, Fortnight is acts as a foil to both the self-centered Frost and the well-intentioned, yet naïve Susan. She is demonstrably a strong, independent woman as evidenced by one of her first scenes involving her getting into a shootout with Stenk. At the same time, she’s not invincible either, having to be saved by Susan at one point. I find it especially admirable how the film handles the relationship between her and Frost. The obvious route for the writers to go is to have them successfully rekindle their relationship. Though Frost does better himself by the end of the film, this never happens. She instead wishes to adventure on her own once all is said and done, though not before acknowledging Frost’s character growth. This is remarkably mature coming from a Western animated film. Many contemporary live-action films failed to handle a relationship like this so realistically.
For that matter, although Missing Link is a fairly predictable film in some respects, it’s amazingly subversive at times. When they arrive at the fabled Shangri-La, Susan is anticipating a heartfelt reunion with the Yeti. What he instead receives is a cold reception from a group of vain, self-righteous individuals. Indeed, the real name of Shangri-La makes their disdain for the outside world plain, translating to “Stay out, we hate you”. They immediately dismiss Susan as their redneck relative, and when they see him in the company of two humans, they throw them into a nigh-inescapable pit until they die. In a typical 2010s feature, the Yeti would be depicted as morally superior to humanity, so it was immensely satisfying that Chris Butler and his team had the characters call them out on their insipid dogmatism. In the end, Frost and Susan endeavored to enter prestigious societies only to learn they weren’t worth the effort. It’s when the two of the realize this that they are able to escape the pit and eventually return to London before setting off on a new adventure.
What I feel to be the best thing about Missing Link is that captures the essence of a New Hollywood-style epic. It accomplishes this with its grand sense of scale. Their misadventures include starting a bar brawl, getting into shootouts, and running around a ship rocking back and forth from the gigantic waves. These are the kinds of things that wouldn’t feel out of place in an Indiana Jones installment, and it’s commendable Mr. Butler was able to cover so much stylistic ground in 94 minutes without making it feel rushed or incomplete. With its stunning animation and memorable cast of characters, Missing Link was another triumph from Laika. It’s a story that takes its characters on an awe-inspiring journey that is doubtlessly worth experiencing yourself.
Final Score: 7/10