Tag: chris butler

Missing Link


Missing Link (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

Laika’s latest outing “Missing Link” has nearly all the elements to make a wonderful adventure film for the whole family. Technically, it is a marvel. As a whole, however, the picture is a disappointment because it fails to grab the viewers on an emotional, gut level. It is strange because the story’s theme is belongingness. We follow two outcasts—an explorer and a mythical beast who are strangers initially—who travel across the globe with the goal of finding a place or group of likeminded individuals who will accept them for who they are. The story’s trajectory is familiar and so the details that compose of that path must be special in order for the work to stand out from its contemporaries—animated film or otherwise.

I enjoyed the film for its seemingly insignificant details. Notice when a character is recalling either a painful or cherished memory, the listener, human or non-human, reacts—a small smile, for instance, that forms suddenly from a neutral expression or how one’s head tilts at a precise moment of surprise or concern which confirms that he or she is indeed interested in what is being shared. These animated figures are made to embody the body language of actual people and so it does not at all require effort to relate to the characters’ personalities, motivations, purpose, or hopes for the future.

More generic animated movies are more concerned about delivering kaleidoscopic colors and busy action. While the film, written and directed by Chris Butler, delivers on those fronts—perhaps most impressive a scene where our protagonists are being hunted by a bounty hunter aboard a ship that undergoes various acrobatics due to a storm—colors and action almost always have clear context behind them. Sure, there are silly pun-filled jokes, but remove such one-liners altogether and meat remains on screen. In other words, the filmmakers are not simply interested in providing sensory, shallow entertainment. It enjoys getting us to think or consider once a while and that is invaluable.

The voice work by Hugh Jackman, as the British explorer Sir Lionel Frost who specializes in providing proof of mythical creatures’ existence, and Zach Galifianakis, as a Sasquatch capable of speaking English despite living in isolation out in the wilderness, is top-notch. In the middle of the movie, I became convinced that the two must have provided their lines in the same room, facing each other. Emotions behind the words command force, jokes land more often than not—which requires precise delivery especially when the point is to underline culture clash, and a convincing sense of camaraderie gets stronger as the work moves forward. If the voice actors actually recorded at different times, I would be even more impressed.

But the work did not move me emotionally—at least not on the level the screenwriter intended to move the viewer. I think it is due to a character I found to be completely unnecessary. Ms. Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), Sir Frost’s romantic interest, appears to be around only to deliver sassy comments and explain or highlight the life lessons that Sir Frost and Mr. Link (the Sasquatch) are supposed to be learning about themselves. By vocalizing the insights that should naturally come about throughout the duo’s journey, it cheapens the material. On this level, it assumes that viewers—especially children—are lacking self-awareness, a critical miscalculation that leaves a sour lasting impression.

ParaNorman


ParaNorman (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

“ParaNorman” began with Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) sitting on the floor and watching a grindhouse horror flick where an actress, barely acting, screamed to the top of her lungs as a zombie crept toward her and finally lunged at her head to eat her deliciously juicy brain. Norman’s grandmother, sitting on the couch, asked him to turn up the heater because her feet were cold. Norman got up to see his family in the kitchen and when he informed them of his grandmother’s request, Mom (Leslie Mann) and Dad (Jeff Garlin) became upset: Grandmother had been dead for a while. Norman, as it turned out, had the ability to communicate with the dead. Written by Chris Butler, the film had a surplus of ideas in order to make Norman’s small town bizarre enough to be unique and yet relatable enough to be enjoyable. Clearly influenced by scary movies, the film was almost made for fans of the genre more than children, from its eerie atmosphere directly taken from George A. Romero’s undead classics to the menacing beats of Lucio Fulci’s score. Its first half was rather mysterious in that it took a bit of time for us to be fully understand what it was supposed to be about. At school, Norman was bullied by Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) for being a weirdo and befriended by socially awkward Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), a kid picked on for being fat. The picture could have used a little more interaction between Norman and Neil. Since the two had opposite personalities, when the script focused on conjuring reasons why the duo were a good fit for one another, the human factor really shone and made their universe more realistic. Their most effective scene involved Neil asking his new friend to throw a stick for fun. Norman, barely having any fun in his life, found it difficult to perform such a simple task. One could detect an underlying message regarding Norman’s reluctance to throw caution to the wind in relation to his negative experiences with the living: they wanted Norman for feel embarrassment or shame for his contentment in being different. Its more sensitive moments and dirty jokes, like a broken sign flashing “Itchy Wieners” which was originally “Witchy Wieners,” were clearly designed for adults. The exaggerated images, on the other hand, were aimed for kids. The young characters on screen were pleasing to eye but the adults had an almost toady quality to them. It seemed like the older the character, the features were bigger, saggier, more abstract. It was an interesting technique. Because a lot of its jokes were adult-oriented, the filmmakers had to make its younger characters visually appealing so that the children could root for them. About halfway through, the film finally found its footing with respect to Norman’s mission. Creativity was abound as Norman and Alvin were chased by zombies in the woods as well as the awkward but hilarious car ride with Neil, Courtney (Anna Kendrick), Norman’s short-tempered sister, and Mitch (Casey Affleck), Neil’s muscular but dense brother. Although “ParaNorman,” directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell, featured a lesson about forgiveness toward the end which I found too slow and sentimental, its other severed parts were edgy and fun. When was the last time you saw an animated film in which its kid protagonist had a chance to engage with a corpse and its bodily functions?