Missing Link ★★★

After the origami-based creativity of Kubo and the Two Strings, it's still refreshing to notice Laika's love for stop-motion craft. From the stunning purple plumes in the Loch Ness river, to the exuberant bar brawl in the Pacific Northwest, and the icicle cliff chase at Shangri-La, all of these segments are created with adroit imagination. Nobody quite does wily pursuit like this animation studio. Where it sorely wanes, though, is grafting a rote trajectory between narcissistic investigator Sir Lionel Frost, and amiable Sasquatch Mr. Link who desires a home with the blue yetis. That's a lethargic first by them.

Watching this play out is bereft of any surprises, and even though writer-director Chris Butler adds some rather catalytic reasons for Frost's ambition (e.g. the conceited Optimates Club preventing him from gaining access), that doesn't make its main traits any more innovative. In due time, Frost gradually acknowledges—or perhaps high-strung Adelina Fortnight persuades him, that he should fully ditch his selfishness in bringing Mr. Link to civilization. The incentive: be a selfless hero, treat Mr. Link with respect, and realize that esteemed notoriety isn't a factor to heed upon.

The bumbling repartee with Frost and Mr. Link is sometimes amusing, particularly in the misconstrued English language. (This Sasquatch may be articulate, but has no idea what figure of speech is.) It's a joke which is often reiterated, and brings half-hearted laughs, as opposed to boisterous humour. Where it does better is the sheer physicality of comedy; an enthusiastic 8 ft tall compatriot, dressed in yellow tartan attire, thinks he is being discreet!) Side-characters that attempt to stop Frost from succeeding also fuel the narrative, from the Optimates' Club imperious leader Lord Piggot-Dunceby, to cranium-scratched bounty hunter Willard Stenk. When they ultimately square off at Shangri-La, it's a breathtaking fiasco that had me thrilled.

Even if Missing Link has limited avenues between Frost's altruistic awakening, and a Sasquatch's integration with his "kind", that shouldn't hinder the rest of Laika's latest aesthetic. If anyone thought they had pigeonholed themselves into a contorted, macabre framework, they've now ventured into a more colourful, exotic route. There's a sense of geography here that eclipses anything they've done. (I also like how the humans here—mainly Frost, have the spindly, arched features of their previous works, added now with ardent red blemishes.) Still, this adventure is far more aestheticized than actually delivering on legitimate character-arcs, as Frost and Mr. Link have to make a selfless compromise. Let's move on from that routine.