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story.lead_photo.caption Hugh Jackman voices a 19th-century explorer who helps out the title character (Zach Galifianakis) in the stop-motion animation Missing Link.

I love animation. I don't know if I've mentioned that before in these pages. (I'm being sarcastic. I have.) But cartoons are something I'll never tire of. And last night as my wife and I sat in an empty theater to enjoy the latest stop-motion animated picture Missing Link, I began to get a little worried for the art form's future.

Before I dive in any further, I should define stop motion animation. It's an old form of animation dating to 1897 with the premiere of The Humpty Dumpty Circus. This is a film where a toy circus of animals and acrobats come alive. It's same style as that old Rankin/Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer movie we watch every Christmas.

Typically, tiny movable figures are positioned on a little set, and a photo is taken. Then artists move the figures slightly and take another picture. This process is repeated thousands and millions of times to create the illusion of movement we call animation.

Missing Link was a humorous film with lots of heart. It follows a British exotic explorer who dreams of one day becoming a famous adventurer. When he gets a letter from Bigfoot, he travels to America to meet the fabled creature, who, it turns out, wants to be reunited with his distant yeti relatives in the Himalayas.

It's a unique tale fitting of Studio Laika's talents. I've had a soft spot for the studio for a few years now. Its artists are responsible for films like Kubo and the Two Strings, Coraline, The Boxtrolls and ParaNorman. These are all niche films and quirky little adventures. They don't make much money at the box office because I feel like audiences believe stop-motion animation is also a bit niche. I have friends that refuse to watch stop-motion movies because the style "creeps them out."

And that leads to my primary fear. These movies usually make enough money to warrant their continuation every few years. But Missing Link made less than $6 million in its opening weekend, according to The Oregonian. That's the lowest opening for any film from the Portland studio.

I lived in Portland at the time Kubo and the Two Strings was released. My wife and I loved the movie, everything from the action and the story to Regina Spektor's rendition of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," (which I'm listening to as I write this). The television station I worked for sent a reporter to interview some artists at Laika after Kubo was nominated for an Oscar. The story remains my favorite our station covered to this day.

Seeing the 3-D printed little figurines, the colorful wee set, hearing the artists discuss their passion for this unique art form, it just stirs something inside me.

Critics enjoyed Kubo. Though apparently not enough to give the movie its Oscar. I remain bitter to this day that this unique charming little beauty lost out to Zootopia, a fun film that didn't deserve the top honor of an Oscar for best animated picture. I was torn last year when my beloved Isle of Dogs was nominated but lost to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. I ranked Spider-Man as the movie of 2018, and it absolutely deserved to win. But that meant another stop-motion animated picture had to lose.

Stop-motion animation has such a fantastic history with pioneers like Tim Burton. Who doesn't love gems like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride? Go back a little further in history and you get greats like Ray Harryhausen, responsible for classics like Mighty Joe Young (the 1949 version) and animation in the 1981 cult classic Clash of the Titans.

But if moviegoers don't support the art form, studios like Laika might decide it's not worth doing anymore. And we desperately need this style of animation to remain in the world. It's holistic and valuable. Computer animation will continue to push the boundaries of what we thought possible in cartoons. We saw that in Disney's gorgeous new trailer for Frozen 2. I still want stop-motion cartoons, though. I need those quirky little stories because they bring a unique blend of happiness I don't find in other cartoons.

Disney does great work, but after they bought out Fox's Blue Sky Studios, who is left to compete with them in the realm of animation? DreamWorks and Sony. Anyone else? With the death of competition comes the death of variety. Animation homogenizes. Disney had fingers in three of the five films nominated for the Academy Award in best animated feature film. Without Isle of Dogs, Disney would have had three of four. Drop Japanese animated film Mirai, and Disney would have had them all.

Go see Missing Link while you have the chance. I guarantee you'll laugh. Your kids will enjoy it, and you will too. Show Laika that audiences still love stop motion animation, and we can't wait to see what they cook up next in 2021 or 2022. And when another studio takes a risk sinking millions of dollars in stop motion animation, reward their bold initiative with the purchase of a ticket and a couple hours on Saturday afternoon.

MovieStyle on 04/19/2019

Print Headline: Please help keep stop-motion animation alive


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