By Matt Grobar
November 2, 2019
After making ParaNorman—the “zombie movie for kids,” which served as his first feature—writer/director Chris Butler wanted to go in an entirely different direction, artistically. “The next thing I wanted to try was a big, bold, colorful adventure movie—stepping out of the shadows, if you like,” Butler said at The Contenders Los Angeles this morning.
Titled Missing Link, the fifth feature from stop-motion innovator LAIKA was also a big departure for the studio, given its orientation around a set of adult characters. “Before that, we were always dealing with anguished kids, and now, we’re dealing with anguished adults instead,” the director remarked. “So, it was a totally new playground in which to play.”
Starring Hugh Jackman and Zach Galifianakis, Missing Link centers on Sir Lionel Frost, a charming (though arrogant) investigator of mythical creatures, who encounters a Sasquatch on a trip to the Pacific Northwest. Befriending Mr. Link—who has seen precious little of the world, outside of the forest he calls home—Sir Lionel finds himself on a trip to the Himalayas, in an effort to reunite the creature with his Yeti relatives.
Joining Butler and fellow producer Arianne Sutner for a panel on the film, moderated by Deadline’s Geoff Boucher, Travis Knight explained why this film was one LAIKA had to make. Growing up “on a steady diet of adventure films,” much like Butler, Knight was excited by the notion of being able to tell a story in the vein of Raiders of the Lost Ark, within the medium of stop-motion animation. “Stop-motion is one of the first forms of filmmaking that was ever invented; it’s been around since Georges Méliès was sending rockets to the moon,” the producer said. “So, to be able to tell a story like that, that was essentially made in a warehouse on these tabletops, was really exciting.”
Ratcheting up its ambitions with each new film, LAIKA employs over 400 crew members for each—and as Sutner explained, Missing Link was yet another film that managed to push the limits of the form. “On this movie, every location was unique, so we really expanded on the stages. Every unit’s covered with black duvetyne, and everything is brought to life in three dimensions,” she shared. “It’s horrible to admit, but we had 95 of those stages on this movie, which is easily 30 too many.”
For Knight, who serves as LAIKA’s President and CEO, it’s been a “liberating” experience to see all that the studio can achieve with the films they make. “It’s interesting because when we started LAIKA 15 years ago, there were inherent limitations in the medium of stop-motion. There were just things you couldn’t do. Most of the films that preceded that look like they were shot on tabletops, because they are. But with each film, we’ve tried to expand what we can do—creatively, artistically, technologically, and so we effectively stand on our own shoulders,” he said. “With this film, there were a bunch of challenges in front of us that we had never tried before, and we overcame them in the process. What that means for me is that we can dream—and if we dream up some great story, we don’t need to worry about the inherent physical limitations of these things.”
“I know we’ll figure it out,” the producer added, “because we have with every film that we’ve done to date.”
Distributed by United Artists Releasing, Missing Link hit theaters on April 12 to critical acclaim. Stephen Fry, Matt Lucas, Zoe Saldana, Timothy Olyphant, Emma Thompson and Adam Godley round out the Oscar contender’s exceptional cast.