“Missing Link” is Laika’s fifth gorgeously detailed work of stop-motion animation and the fourth to leave me kind of cold. Only the studio’s debut, “Coraline,” had the intended impact; “ParaNorman,” “The Boxtrolls,” and “Kubo and the Two Strings” were all wonderful to look at but offered no emotional connection. I feel bad not being moved by these painstaking efforts, but it’s been pretty consistent.
This one’s about a turn-of-the-last-century English explorer, Sir Lionel Frost (voice of Hugh Jackman), who is the laughingstock at the gentlemen’s club because of his interest in the Loch Ness Monster and other supposedly imaginary beasts. On a tip, Sir Lionel travels to the Pacific Northwest and finds a Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis) who surprises him by speaking English and asking for help. Mr. Link (as Sir Lionel starts calling him) is lonely here, the last of his kind. But he’s heard of a place in the Himalayas called Shangri-La where there are creatures similar to him who must be his cousins or something. In exchange for proof of Mr. Link’s existence, Sir Lionel pledges to assist him in his travels.
A deceased colleague of Sir Lionel’s had a map to Shangri-La, and while his feisty widow, Adelina (Zoe Saldana), won’t let Sir Lionel take it, she’s willing to join him and Mr. Link on the journey as a means of breaking up her boring life. They’re pursued by one Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant), an assassin hired by Sir Lionel’s snootiest gentleman rival, Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry), to make sure they don’t achieve their goal.
All the ingredients are there for a rousing adventure, and writer-director Chris Butler (“ParaNorman”) and his crew created an astounding array of models and sets to depict it. I love Lord Piggot-Dunceby’s haughty appearance, and the way an old Nepalese woman’s head shakes in the manner of the very elderly. You can see the countless hours of meticulous work that went into every corner of every frame. Maybe that’s the problem — where the similarly painstaking Pixar films tend to be so breezy you forget how much work went into them, the Laikas feel effortful.
The Sasquatch character should have been the ace in the hole. Gentle, nervous, fussy, and literal-minded, he has great comedy potential. But the movie, while amusing, is only sporadically funny. The characters look terrific and the voice work is solid, but they don’t have souls. The chemistry among them never produces anything memorable. Simple to a fault, the story and script could have used some punching-up to give it more personality, more zip — more anything. My cold, dead heart is often touched by films, especially ones aimed at kids. Why can’t I love the Laikas? I am a monster. Please escort me home to the Himalayas.
B- (1 hr., 34 min.; )