Sir Lionel Frost, the ostensible hero of Missing Link, is a perfect match for the medium of stop-motion filmmaking. He’s an explorer who travels to eye-popping locations around the world, makes a habit of finding the strangest-looking creatures possible, and does it all with a clipped sort of fastidiousness straight out of his Victorian era. The opening scene of the film sees Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman) battle the Loch Ness monster with hilarious precision, tackling the gargantuan beast with just a walking stick and a notepad. His attention to detail makes him an ideal fit for a form that brings wiry puppets to life through meticulous craft and technology—in which every turn of a character’s head or tap of his foot takes hours, or even days, to arrange.
Considering the effort that has to go into every shot, Missing Link—the latest feature from the bespoke animation powerhouse Laika (the studio behind hits such as The Boxtrolls and Kubo and the Two Strings)—is impressive to the point of feeling daunting. It’s filled with colorful characters, innovative creature design, and some of the most spectacular sets in Laika’s history. But while the film (directed by Chris Butler, whose last feature was the excellent Laika project ParaNorman) conjures several gorgeous landscapes, Missing Link also stands out as a lovely fable about the limits of Frost’s assiduousness, and the complications caused by his sense of superiority.