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‘Missing Link’ Director On Golden Globe Animation Win: “I’m Flabbergasted”

By Geoff Boucher

January 5, 2020

The biggest shock of the 77th Golden Globes came in the Best Animated Feature Film category when Laika’s Missing Link abruptly upgraded its industry stature from “box-office disappointment” to “underdog awards winner” by besting a field of blockbuster rivals with better pedigrees, larger budgets, stronger reviews, and bigger box office.

“I’m flabbergasted,” writer-director Chris Butler said with a dazed expression after he was handed the shiny trophy that most observers expected to go home with one of the three Disney projects nominated.

The victory march for Butler and the film’s producer, Arianne Sutner, was literally a long one in the making — the pair were seated so far in the back of the dining room at the Beverly Hilton that it took quite a while for the tandem to reach the microphone.

“I’m genuinely shocked,” said Butler, who was also the writer-director of Laika’s macabre masterpiece Para-Norman (2012).

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.

The Golden Globe nomination for The Missing Link (Annapura Pictures/Laika, distributed by United Artists Releasing) represented the fourth nomination earned by Laika Studios since the animated feature film category was introduced in 2006. The Oregon-based stop-action animation specialty house was previously nominated for Coraline (2009), The Box Trolls (2014), Kubo and the Two Strings (2014). It was the studio’s first win.

No one knows how much the Disney presence in the category split the vote among the Burbank animation giant’s three projects. The most intriguing element of this year’s contest was the presence of Jon Favreau’s The Lion King, the nominee that has inspired an existential debate regarding its “true” cinematic nature. Favreau’s film is, by all accounts, a crowd-pleasing visual marvel, but with its surprise inclusion among the 2019 animation nominees the jungle epic was the contender that was neither fish nor fowl.

As a photo-realistic remake of the traditionally animated 1994 epic, The Lion King “looks” like a live-action film on the screen. But with visuals entirely created by computers (with zero real actors, animals, props, or backgrounds appearing on screen) the movie was deemed to be an animated feature film by the voting membership of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.

Disney, meanwhile, has opted to treat The Lion King as a live-action movie, Encouraged by The Jungle Book’s Oscar success, winning the special effects category, the studio is making a similar push for The Lion King in the visual effects categories.

The film was not among the 32 films submitted for the 2020 Animated Feature Oscar and was not among the recent Annie nominees. The HFPA’s inclusion of The Lion King in the Golden Globes animation race gave Disney three of this year’s five nominees (along with Frozen 2 and Pixar’s Toy Story 4). The category also included two of the year’s three highest-grossing Hollywood releases (Frozen 2 and Toy Story 4 finished second and third, respectively, behind box-office champ Avengers: Endgame.)

Favreau’s The Lion King is part of the recent wave of digitally enhanced Disney remakes of the studio’s 20th Century library of traditionally animated classics. That wave includes Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Favreau’s  The Jungle Book, Dumbo, Aladdin, The Lady and the Tramp, as well as the upcoming Mulan, The Little Mermaid, and 101 Dalmations. The Lion King, however, is the only film on that list that is a wholly digital creation.

The Dreamworks Animation/Universal Pictures hit How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World closes out the evocative trilogy about friendship, family, and bravery. All three installments earned Golden Globe nominations in the animated category. The second film, Dean DeBlois’ How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014), won the award.