Director Chris Butler, 94 mins, voiced by: Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, Zoe Saldana, Emma Thompson. Cert PG
There is a strong flavour of Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne in this animated adventure about a Victorian-era gentleman explorer in pursuit of humanity’s primitive ancestors. Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman) is first encountered trying to take photographs of the Loch Ness monster. He’s a dapper figure with a chip on his shoulder. His fellow explorers won’t allow him to become a member of the upper class “Optimates Club” unless he comes back from his travels with some astonishing new discovery. The Big Foot might do the trick of winning him acceptance among his peers.
In terms of pictorial detail, Missing Link is very impressive. We can see every fibre of Sir Lionel’s garish tweed suit and every individual follicle on the very hairy back of “Susan” aka Mr Link (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), the yeti-like creature (“neither ape nor man but something in between”) Sir Lionel finds in the jungle and befriends. The colours are eye-popping and the landscapes exhaustively detailed.
Writer-director Chris Butler’s screenplay is full of puns and whimsical wordplay. Susan is an articulate and politely spoken yeti but he takes everything very literally. Whenever Sir Lionel resorts to metaphor, the gigantic simian is inclined to become very confused.
Missing Link develops into an amiable but slightly undercharged buddy movie. Having discovered Susan, who has been living all on his own, Sir Lionel takes him in search of Shangri-La. Here, they hope to find some of Susan’s relatives. The ape, soon given a tweed suit of his own, is the Dr Watson or Passepartout figure, the bumbling but loyal accomplice. En route, the travellers pick up Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), the glamorous widow of one of Sir Lionel’s old friends and rivals. She has a map they desperately need. They’re also pursued across continents by Stenk, a stoat-like assassin hired by the sneering and devious Lord Piggot-Dunceby (voiced by Stephen Fry), who will go to extreme lengths to keep Sir Lionel out of the Optimates’ Club.
Sir Lionel is conceited and opportunistic himself. When the Loch Ness monster looks as if it is about to eat his assistant, he will murmur approvingly to himself that this indeed confirms his thesis that the creature is a carnivore. However, he is a good man at heart. Adelina and the ape bring out his better qualities.
At times, Missing Link seems like a light-hearted cartoon version of James Gray’s The Lost City of Z. As the humans go in search of missing lands and monsters, they reveal their own arrogance and barbarity. The yeti is far more civilised than they are.
In the course of the film, Sir Lionel and co are seen out west, on ocean liners, in South American jungles and in the snow-capped Himalayas. The story risks turning into a glorified travelogue with a random choice of destinations. We lose any clear sense of what either Sir Lionel or the ape are striving after. At least, the set-pieces are rousing and ingenious. The Himalayan standoff at the end of the film will induce extreme queasiness in anyone who suffers from even the slightest tinge of vertigo. Butler’s gentle and ironic humour is similar to that found in Nick Park movies. Missing Link is inventive and funny but it also feels stretched far beyond its natural length. It’s a 90-minute feature but could surely have worked just as well at a third of that time.
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