Missing Link (Photo: United Artists & Laika)

MISSING LINK
**1/2 (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Chris Butler
STARS Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis

The latest likable effort from Laika, Missing Link may not match the stop-motion animation studio’s previous endeavors like Coraline and ParaNorman but nevertheless displays enough charm and whimsy to satisfy the small fry. Placating the adults in their midst might be another matter.

Hugh Jackman, whose prior voice work was in the service of the animation outfits at Aardman, DreamWorks and Warner, here joins the Laika cause by lending his soothing pipes to the character of Sir Lionel Frost, an English adventurer who travels the world hoping to prove the existence of famous mythological creatures. After encountering (but failing to document) the Loch Ness Monster, Sir Lionel gets an invitation to come track down the Sasquatch in the Pacific Northwest.

Sir Lionel easily finds the creature (Zach Galifianakis), the reason being that the invite was sent by the Sasquatch himself. A talkative type, the affable beast names himself Susan and reveals that he wants Sir Lionel to lead him to his long-lost relatives, the Yetis residing in the Himalayas. Sir Lionel agrees to the task, and they’re soon joined by his former girlfriend, the wealthy Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana). But the hissable Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry) doesn’t want Sir Lionel’s discovery to become public, so he hires an assassin named Willard Stenk (voiced by Timothy Olyphant but suspiciously drawn like Jackie Earle Haley) to kill everyone involved.

The Laika brand of animation always provides a welcome reprieve from the visually stale style of toons offered by everyone not named Aardman, Pixar or Disney, and the gentle humor is likewise appreciated as a respite from the cruder gags that too often have become the norm. It’s just a shame that the characters aren’t more invigorating — Mr. Link/Susan is actually a rather one-note figure, and Adelina adds nothing substantial to the proceedings, created solely for the purpose of providing Sir Lionel with an obligatory love interest. And although there are some enterprising bits when it comes to the staging of these stop-motion creations, the actual jokes putter as often as they pop. Missing Link sports a distinctive look and offers plenty of heart, but true invention is noticeably MIA.

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