We’ve been pretty eager to see some footage from Laika‘s latest stop-motion adventure film. We were sold back in April when we first learned that their next feature would be a globe-trotting Bigfoot adventure conceived in partnership with Annapurna Pictures. Their previous output of Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and Kubo and the Two Strings leaves very little room for doubt that whatever material they decide to focus on will be at the very least, critically successful even if they fail to meet the box office of Pixar and DreamWorks.
Despite being preoccupied with shepherding his first-live action Transformers blockbuster to the big screen as the director of Bumblebee, Laika CEO Travis Knight has unloaded a lot of bold talk into the Internet. He has called Missing Link “a kaleidoscopic cinematic experience unlike any other” and that “it’s the most striking thing we’ve ever done.” With such cheerleading swarming around their latest endeavor, it’s hard not to get swept up with infectious enthusiasm.
Let’s press play on the first trailer for the film and determine if we should drink the Kool-Aid or not.
Is it me, or does Mr. Link have an incredibly Aardman Animations-looking face? That gargantuan nose, the tiny, close-set eyes centered within a wide-open face. He looks like a chum who would pall around with Wallace and Gromit. Not a knock, I’m just suddenly struck with a desire for a shared cinematic universe (uh, I may just be seeing those everywhere these days).
Whatever the creature’s origins or inspirations, I’m sold on the adventure. Under the direction of Chris Butler, the same man who breathed life into ParaNorman, Missing Link appears to capture that same blend of stop-motion craft, whimsy, and heart. Is it the revolution Travis Knight was promising a few months earlier? I’m not so sure on that front just yet.
The most noticeable aspect absent from the frame is the presence of a child protagonist. Laika specifically stated when they announced Missing Link that they were looking to escape the wish-fulfillment tropes of their prior films. Knight has said that Kubo and the Two Strings was a goodbye to childhood and the end of their first cycle of filmmaking and that Missing Link is their first step to telling “different stories.”
Another aspect of Laika’s growth is hidden within the trailer. As reported by /Film, the studio has developed a new apparatus that allows puppeteers to control the breathing of their figures. Each character can now huff and puff, adding an extra layer of realism to their animation. From the fanatic or artist’s standpoint, that is a tremendous leap forward in the technology. However, will the average moviegoer notice or care?
Missing Link certainly seems to be embracing comedy. Besides centering their story around the odd couple duo of Hugh Jackman and Zack Galifianakis, they’ve also squeezed in the voice talents of Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, Zoe Saldana, Timothy Olyphant, Matt Lucas, David Walliams, Amrita Acharia, and Chang Valdes-Aran. They’re not messing around here.
What I see in the trailer is a good time at the movies. Yes, no kids. But I’ll have to wait to determine if the film is truly the next step in the evolution of Laika. As an audience member, I’m less concerned with a company’s growth. Give me a rollicking globe-trotting road picture with a Yeti and a few laughs, and I’m good.