Movie Review: Laika Puts Its Own Lovely Spin on the Bigfoot Myth with ‘Missing Link’

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CREDIT: Laika Studios/Annapurna Pictures

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, Zoe Saldana, Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Timothy Olyphant, David Walliams, Matt Lucas, Amrita Acharia, Ching Valdez-Aran

Director: Chris Butler

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: PG for Wild West-Style Gunfire and Icy Heights

Release Date: April 12, 2019

The Bigfoot-based Missing Link features enough bullets flying around and enough characters falling to their (presumed) deaths to make me wonder if it is really appropriate for children. Its PG rating is justified in that we do not see the bloodiest ends of these lethal situations, and as a stop-motion animated feature, the whole aesthetic is too charming to ever be gruesome. But I still wonder about how well young kids are equipped to handle such unmistakable peril. Honestly, though, my preference is that we give children some psychological credit and let them be exposed to these frights. So thank you for not holding back, Laika (the production company behind this and other stop-motion flicks like Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings).

The innovation I love about Missing Link is that its humanoid ape creature is perfectly willing to expose himself to society, or at least to Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman), the bon vivant searching for him. Furthermore, Mr. Link (Zach Galifianakis) speaks perfectly fluent English, which could make the gags based on his inability to grasp sarcasm and metaphor illogical except for the fact that there are plenty of real human people who are similarly not so fast on the uptake themselves in such lingual matters.

Anyway, Mr. Link is tired of living by himself in the Pacific Northwest, and he’s heard that his cousins the Yeti are cool up in the mountains of Asia, so he asks Lionel to lead him there. What follows is a buddy road trip movie in which everyone is gratifyingly on the same side as each other and making a deal that benefits them all fairly. We the audience get to witness some genuine, hopefully lifelong friendships blooming over the course of this high-stakes adventure. If a predictable message of “what you’ve been looking for has been right in front of you all along” pops up by the end, it’s safe to say that Missing Link has earned that indulgence.

Missing Link is Recommended If You Like: Previous Laika features, Kid-friendly Wild West adventures, Smallfoot

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Yeti Elders

This Is a Movie Review: ‘My Little Pony: The Movie’ Keeps Equestria Buoyant and Simple

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CREDIT: Lionsgate/Hasbro

This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2017.

Starring: Tara Strong, Ashleigh Ball, Andrea Libman, Tabitha St. Germain, Cathy Weseluck, Emily Blunt, Michael Peña, Liev Schreiber, Taye Diggs, Zoe Saldana, Kristen Chenoweth, Uzo Aduba, Sia

Director: Jayson Thiessen

Running Time: 99 Minutes

Rating: PG for the Stone Hearts and Warped Magic of Cartoon Villains

Release Date: October 6, 2017

There’s a contingent of young adult (mostly) male fans of the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic TV series who go by the moniker “bronies.” Some might suspect irony in this demographic’s devotion to a cartoon about unicorn ponies, but everything I know about them indicates that they are completely genuine. As I am curious enough to check out any show meant to appeal to demos completely different than mine, I once upon a time wondered if I too might become a brony. So I watched an episode of Friendship is Magic several years ago, and … I didn’t really get what all the fuss was about. But with a movie adaptation on the horizon, and with me as someone who is professionally bound to sample every wide release, the ponies stood another chance of hooking me into their fold.

Alas, after catching My Little Pony: The Movie, I must report that I still remain unconverted. But I suspect the fandom will be pleased. Normally when reviewing something, I keep every possible audience in mind, but MLP should not be faulted too hard for catering to one crowd in particular. It has no desire to expand its appeal with the self-awareness of DreamWorks, or the adult themes snuck into Pixar’s childlike wonder, or the anarchy of Despicable Me. Furthermore, the plot is simple, straightforward, and archetypal: the heroes make a bunch of new friends on a Campbell-esque hero’s journey, and the villain is not evil so much as misunderstood. While I would be more impressed with My Little Pony if it were more ambitious, there is something to be said for easy-to-understand positivity.

For those looking for some distinct personalities and imaginative flourishes, there are some  pleasures to be had. Emily Blunt is positively purring as Tempest Shadow, a heavy metal-influenced purple unicorn who threatens to ruin the good vibes of the ponies’ homeland of Equestria. Then there is Taye Diggs familiziairing everyone with the message of the beatniks in his voicing of hepcat humanoid feline Capper. The color palette is relentlessly bright, which certainly earns my favor, but for those who like it a little darker or at least subdued, it is still impressive how fastidiously each shade of the rainbow is woven together. In total, MLP: The Movie does what it sets out to do.

My Little Pony: The Movie is Recommended If You Like: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Unikitty from The Lego Movie, Parent-child bonding time

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Hippogriffs

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2’ Fulfills Its Blockbuster Duty

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This review was originally published on News Cult in May 2017.

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Kurt Russell

Director: James Gunn

Running Time: 136 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Space Opera Whiz Bang and Discussions About the Facts of Life

Release Date: May 5, 2017

As fun as this era of Marvel-ous moviemaking can be, a corporate agenda gets in the way of originality. But it is not necessarily the blueprint of interconnected universes that mandates that every superhero movie must end with a fight for the survival of the planet. That is simply this genre’s instinct. If you want to avoid it, you have to fight it. And expanding the setting to multiple galaxies is not the way to do so. That just raises the stakes. Instead of just Earth, it is the fate of the entire universe that hangs in the balance. Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 cannot help but be a part of this exhausting pattern, but it does what it can by rendering this gigantic fight as personal as possible.

When Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) long-lost papa Ego (Kurt Russell) shows up, Quill suspects that the reunion is a little too perfect. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) convinces him to give his dad a chance, assuring him that if treachery is afoot, killing him is always an option. So they, alongside Drax (Dave Bautista) and Ego’s empathic companion Mantis (Pom Klementieff) head off to Ego’s home planet. It looks like an idyllic utopia, but eventually it is revealed that Ego is the planet, and his intentions with his son may not be so aboveboard. The threat of universal apocalypse thereby feels intimate because it depends upon how Quill will or will not be manipulated.

Meanwhile, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are holding down the fort elsewhere and forming unlikely, but satisfying, alliances with Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). They must deal with an onslaught from a new race of aliens that I do not feel like getting into. They are probably here because they will factor significantly into future Marvel Cinematic Universe installments, but for now, they are a distraction from the main conflict. I am not opposed in principle to splitting up the main crew. Rocket and Groot, after all, have a delightful C-3PO/R2-D2-style repartee wherever they go. They can do their own thing, it just does not need to be so extensive when the main thrust is already so all-encompassing.

While vol. 2 does fall prey to sequel bloat, the Guardians crew is reliable enough for their adventures to have a pretty high floor. The banter is top-notch, fueled as it is by intergalactic culture clash. Gamora attempts to comfort Quill by referencing his attachment to a certain beloved-by-Germans celebrity, but she totally botches the details. Quill later fires back with a Cheers analogy of their relationship that is adorably confused. Drax demonstrates how his race is quite open about discussing sexual matters with a colorful description of his parents’ experiences. This is all helped along by Mantis’ empathic abilities, in which she can feel others’ emotions and thus open up the dams holding back honesty. The pinnacle of all this sharing is Baby Groot’s opinion on hats (which does not even need Mantis’ prompting).

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is Recommended If You Like: “I am Groot.” “I am Groot?” “I AMMM GROOOOOOOT!”

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Sweet Sounds of the Seventies