Zoe Saldana

154: Missing Link Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

SPOILER TALK HEADS UP!: Due to a certain joke occurring in the movie, I am going to be talking about one of the most important scenes of the film, and talking a little bit about where I stand with the situation.

As I sit here and type this review, a cloud of sadness and frustration looms over me. Not because of the movie I’m reviewing itself; it’s because of the current state of what thrives and dies within the current Hollywood theatrical film climate. It’s this uneven balancing act between the studios and the audiences to make this dance work, because when both forces aren’t synced up, good films end up falling by the wayside. People want original ideas and films, but then don’t go to see them, and instead, go see something that is based on a pre-existing property. However, studios need to know that not every film they release needs to be making billions, or cost $300 million. Because of the current climate, certain films seem to be popping up less and less on the big screen, but then flourish on streaming services. Maybe stop-motion animation should join that list due to today’s review, Missing Link. Directed and written by Chris Butler, Missing Link is the next film in Laika’s long line-up of beautifully-crafted stop-motion features that garner high praise, but sadly, underperform or bomb. Missing Link seems to be suffering from that scenario as of writing this review. Maybe this film’s box office was more elusive than the Missing Link himself. Let’s see what’s up!

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The story revolves around Sir Lionel Frost, voiced by Hugh Jackman. He is an explorer who seeks out legendary and mythical monsters to prove that they exist. His main goal is to join this Adventurer’s club, but is constantly rejected for lack of proof of his adventures. One day, after getting back from another adventure, Lionel finds a letter that says that the individual in the letter is Big Foot, and tells Lionel to meet him in the Pacific Northwest to find him. Once getting there, Lionel meets the Big Foot in question, Mr. Link, who later goes by Susan, voiced by Zack Galifianakis. Susan asks Lionel to take him around the world to where the Yetis live, to help him find his own kind, and to find his place in the world. Along the way, the two are joined by Adelina Fortnight, a widow and old love interest of Lionel, voiced by Zoe Saldana, and avoiding the grasps of Lord Piggot-Dunceby, voiced by Stephen Fry, and Willard Stenk, voiced by Timothy Olyphant. Can Lionel help Susan find his people? Will Lionel make it into the club?

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I think what I love the most about this movie, is how laid back it is. It’s a grand adventure, but it feels smaller in scale, due to how intimate the story is. For me, what makes the low-key charm of the film work is the chemistry between the three main characters. I know when the first trailer for Missing Link came out, people were worried, for some reason, that Laika was going to give up on their identity to be more mainstream. Well, to all of the skeptics out there, I was right, and had nothing to worry about! The character interactions in Missing Link always felt natural, especially the scenes with Lionel and Susan. They hold this movie together, and they work off each other well. Both characters have the same goal of being accepted and being a part of a community, but they cleverly show off the difference between the two. Susan wants to find the Yetis, because he is the last of his kind, and wants to find his way in the world, and being with the Yetis might help him, because they are “relatives”. Lionel wants to join this adventurer club for the sake of doing so, because he was told “no”. One is obviously more selfish than the other. Both characters though share that drive of wanting something so much, that it hurts when they aren’t able to get it. It also deals with themes of identity and looking at the bigger picture. While I know some were disappointed that Lionel is Laika’s first adult protagonist, because they think kids really want to see themselves as the heroes, I like him. He’s entertaining and enough of a jerk that you don’t just hate his guts throughout the entire film. Susan, voiced by Zack Galifianakis, is easily the most likable character. Either because of the writing or great directing, Zack makes Susan a very funny character. I know it’s easy to label Galifianakis as the inept weirdo comedy relief due to the Hangover trilogy and other films, but I think he has proven that he can be more than that, and this film is a great example of it. A lot of the humor is very witty and British in tone, and I think that makes it a more watchable film for the years to come. People will be coming back to this one more than any Illumination or Blue Sky comedy. It shows how smart comedic writing that’s not loud, fast, and pop-culture-focused can work. I also adored Zoe Saldana as Adelina Fortnight. She was a strong, fiery female who would always call out Lionel for his buffoonery, and it’s one of the few animated features that have the male and female lead not end up together. Good! Not every animated feature needs to have the male and female lead get together.

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Of course, I can’t talk about this film, without talking about the gorgeous animation. This is easily the most ambitious animation Laika has done. You just see the blood, sweat, and tears put into the detailed environments, the characters, the movements, how smoothly everything moves, and the colors. It’s a beautiful movie to look at and be amazed how a lot of it was made by hand with very little CGI used. Even if you aren’t fully on board with the film or its characters, you can’t deny that the animation is well done. The voice cast is, to no surprise, good! I know there is this push for more voice actors to take lead roles, but you also have to understand that most casual movie audiences don’t know who famous voice actors like Tom Kenny, Jim Cummings, or Tara Strong are. That’s why they use celebrities, and while sometimes you can’t separate the actor from the character, here they do a good job with their respective roles.

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I think the biggest issues this film has can be attributed to a few different criticisms. The first one revolves around the villains. I get what they were going for with Piggot and Stenk, with them being villains that you would have seen back in the old action adventure movie days, but they are easily the weakest characters of the film. They are played well by Stephen Fry and Timothy Olyphant, but they are a touch too simple. There was also another tired male prisoner joke in the film. It’s short, but I’m getting tired of seeing this joke being used. I also wish they did more with the Yetis. They aren’t in the film much, but are more of an obstacle that the heroes have to overcome than actual characters. It’s a shame too, because Emma Thompson, who voices the lead Yeti, probably has the best joke in the movie. It seems like sometimes, Laika has a problem with their third acts with how they are paced. There is also a joke that I have seen split people down the middle about when Mr. Link decides to go by the name of Susan. It’s a touching scene, but I can see why it sparked some debate if it’s unintentionally hurtful due to the fact that Lionel will sometimes, either accidently or the script forgot to make that change, will call Susan, Mr. Link. I have heard many opinions on the gradient of this discussion, and I don’t really have a fully-fledged opinion. I don’t think it’s as bad as others make it out to be, but I’m not dismissing the fact that it could be taken the wrong way. I think it’s unintentional in its execution. While I loved the chemistry between the characters, I wish there was maybe one more scene with the characters bonding. It’s one of the few times a film that’s 95 minutes long, could be almost two hours due to how laid back and enjoyable it is.

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While I am mad that people are not seeing Missing Link, and are instead going to see Pet Sematary and Little, and Laika not having enough resources for marketing, I still love Missing Link. It might not be Kubo and the Two Strings or Coraline, but I love this movie. Heck, I love all of Laika’s movies. If people truly desire and want new or original stories and films, then they need to not hesitate on seeing films like Missing Link, because it’s stop-motion. Go see the film, and if you love it, that’s awesome, and if you didn’t find it to be impressive, then that’s okay as well! What matters is, is that you went to see and supported an original property. I can’t wait to own this flick on blu-ray when it comes out. Well, while we wait to see how enjoyable or cynical Ugly Dolls is in May, let’s check out one of DC’s newest films with Justice League vs. The Fatal Five. Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed it, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/essentials

Hit-or-Miss Movie Predictions: My Little Pony: The Movie

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)

While 2017 may be an underwhelming year for animated films, I would hardly call it forgettable or lacking in curious oddities. One of those cases that I have been the most curious about is the upcoming My Little Pony the Movie. It’s hard not to know about the megaton hit that is My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. And if you are curious, yes, I have seen some seasons of the show and found it admirable. It’s not my cup of tea, but I totally respect and understand why this show is such a hit, and why so many people like it. I was a tad concerned when they announced a movie was in production. I mean, I am not surprised, but at the same time, there was a span of films from the early to mid-2000s that were based on animated TV shows, and while some made bank, they weren’t always of the highest quality. Of course, some of the films had some development troubles, and we ended up with inferior products, but still. When they recently released the poster and the first main trailer for the film, I had a lot to think and talk about with the overall trailer, and my first impressions from it. This won’t be long since I don’t have much to say, and who knows if I’ll honestly go see it day one, unless I’m with my niece or something.

The Animation

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I’ll start us off with some technical stuff and talk about the animation. At first, I thought the film looked great. It might be flash animation, but it’s not like the show looked terrible. It still had pretty good expressions and movements. This looks like it had a lot of money put into it, with very smooth movements and more robust colors. It’s honestly nice to see some 2D animation for a majority of the running time. Due to how every film these days has CGI animation with maybe some 2D thrown into the mix, it’s refreshing to see 2D animation come back into theaters that’s not an indie or foreign film. However, I started seeing people talk about how the animation was off-putting. I decided to rewatch the trailer a couple of times, and that is when I started to spot some problems. First off, it looks like it’s going to be 2D on either certain CGI backgrounds/sets, or only certain elements are CGI. It definitely looks a tad distracting when you watch it and spot the CGI. It might be done in the same art style as the show, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be noticeable. There were some scenes where it was completely obvious that it was CGI, like the windmill sequence. Even then, at the very least, I admire that it stays true to how the show looks, and does look theatrical quality, something I’m surprised Lionsgate knows the definition of in terms of animation.

The Cast/Story

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This is where my biggest gripe with the film comes into play. It’s more or less the marketing of the film, but this film has a real fetish with not giving the actual leads of the film top billing. If you look at the poster and the trailer, they get none of the billing. All the big names you see on there are either side characters or the villains. Granted, I don’t hate the casting choices. I mean, you can’t go wrong with some of these choices. Emily Blunt, Michael Peña, Uzo Aduba, Zoe Saldana, Sia, Taye Diggs, and Kristin Chenoweth have proven that they can be entertaining actors, and some even downright amazing actors. However, the problem comes with them being the only ones who get top billing in the trailer and the poster. You don’t see any of the voice actresses in the trailer or on the overly glowly and bright poster. Actually, you do see them, but they are stuck in the small print at the bottom of the poster where no one, unless you want to know who did what major role in the film, is going to care or read that part.
I just find that so backhandish, since Tara Strong, Ashleigh Ball, Andrea Libman, Tabitha St. Germain, and Cathy Weseluck are the characters you will be following the most in the entire film. I get that you need to get as many people to see this, whether they are fans of the show or not, but we are at a period in time where voice actors need to get better respect and treatment, due to how hard they work to bring hugely memorable characters to life. It makes the whole situation worse when Ratchet & Clank, the biggest bomb of animation in 2016, was willing and happy to show off James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, and Jim Ward along with the other actors on the poster. Granted, they did the same thing with the trailer for that film, with showing off the celebrities first and foremost, but still. Plus, it’s not like celebrities these days are big reasons to watch a movie, especially an animated movie. If the movie is terrible, then the actors aren’t going to fully save the experience.

It’s problematic, since it comes off that Lionsgate is desperate for people to come see this movie, and to be frank, the movie looks fine. It looks like a fun magical action adventure film set in a universe that has been popular since 2010 with characters people love.  I think the story seems adequate, with an evil force wanting to take over the kingdom. It seems like the actors and voice actors are having fun with their roles, and while I do think they don’t need that many celebrities for the film, they are at least trying since, I didn’t pick up on Michael Peña at first.

Any Lingering Concerns/Last Minute Comments?

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I rolled my eyes a little when I saw that Sia was going to be in the movie. Not that I think she is terrible or anything like that, but with how most animated films are made these days, I won’t be surprised if you don’t see her for about 90% of the film, and only appears at the beginning and the ending where it’s going to have that popular film trope, dance party ending. I’m also wondering if it’s too late to be making this movie. Like, they needed to make this movie a few years back to cash in on the fan base when it was at its biggest.

Prediction: Adequate

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I can see the success of this film going either way. It could be an unexpected hit, it could be a flaming dumpster fire waiting to happen, or it can be just a fun romp that’s not great, but not terrible. I never want a film to bomb, even if I’m not looking forward to it. I want to be surprised and when I do see this film, I want to be entertained. Nothing is worse than a film that wastes your time. I hope the film by MLP:FiM director and screenwriter Jayson Thiessen and Meghan McCarthy turns out to be a blast for anyone who does go see it. I just wish they gave the voice actresses some of the top billing. We will have to see in October and when more trailers come up to see if this will be good or bad.