Missing Link

⋆⋆½ out of four stars

Rated: PG for action, peril and mild rude humor.

 

This tale of people, not-so-mythical beasts and world-spanning adventures is ingeniously wrought but only intermittently enthralling. It’s a rich-looking blend of stop-motion animation, enhanced with computer-generated effects and 3-D printing techniques. Yet, these all are servicing an emotionally wanting plot, humor that doesn’t always land and a too frequent and too dark undercurrent of threatened violence.

Writer/director Chris Butler’s first film was 2013’s Oscar-nominated “ParaNorman,” about a boy who felt like an outcast and saw ghosts. Here he creates two more outcasts — an explorer (voiced by Hugh Jackman) whose views aren’t accepted by the adventurers’ club he longs to join, and a lonely, last-of-his-breed sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis) who wants to leave the Pacific Northwest and join his cousins in the Himalayas.

Butler’s fable, which echoes such stories as “Around the World in 80 Days” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” too often loses its emotional energy, stalling among the intricacies of fight scenes or Himalayan vistas.

Only Galifianakis puts his heart into his performance. Other characters seem to explain the plot rather than live it.

The movie doesn’t lay an egg by any means. It is visually stunning, and the humor that does work is effective. Yet, ambitious as it is, the film doesn’t sail easily enough between its disparate parts.

Jane Horwitz, Washington Post

The Chaperone

⋆⋆½ out of four stars

Not rated

Theater: Edina.

 

Well-behaved and genteel, this second cousin of “Downton Abbey” — which supplied its director (Michael Engler), writer (Julian Fellowes) and producer/star (Elizabeth McGovern) — is not in need of a chaperone.

This is more than a little ironic, because one of the film’s protagonists is the real-life Louise Brooks (played by Haley Lu Richardson), a 1920s and ’30s actress whose incendiary screen presence and free-spirited life gave decorum-seekers fits.

Although Brooks is a key participant, the film’s focus, as the title indicates, is on a much less fascinating character, Norma Carlisle (McGovern).

Brooks went to New York City for five weeks to study dance (true). She was accompanied by a chaperone (true), but it wasn’t Norma (a completely fictional character).

It is the conceit of the film that the traveling companions, as different as they are, have an influence on each other’s lives. While everyone works very hard here, it ultimately resists the kind of energy and psychological interest that made “Downton” so snappy.

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

 

Little

⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: PG-13 for suggestive content.

 

This spin on “Big” owes its existence and its charisma to Marsai Martin. The 14-year-old “Black-ish” star pitched and produced the comedy, in which she also stars. She personally recruited the rest of team, including co-writer/director Tina Gordon (“ATL”), co-writer Tracy Oliver (“Girls Trip”) and co-stars Regina Hall (“Girls Trip”) and Issa Rae (HBO’s “Insecure.”)

Vicious tech mogul Jordan Sanders is played with aplomb by Martin and Hall in a pair of performances that fit together seamlessly.

Jordan’s foil/victim/nemesis is her hip assistant April (Rae), whom she terrorizes. When Jordan finds herself on the receiving end of a toy magic wand and child’s wish that she were little, she wakes up in her 13-year-old body and needs April to pretend to be her guardian, a turning of the tables that her assistant relishes.

This is essentially a one-joke movie with a predictable — and somewhat clunky — plot, but Martin is so charming as a mini-tyrant that it works. She has great chemistry with Rae. Jordan and April have a zippy, smart and sassy rapport.

The movie’s message is poignant and never gets lost in the antics or humor. To truly love and accept yourself and connect with others, you have to love and accept all the parts of yourself, including the dorky, bullied 13-year-old. We could all stand to remember and love who we were at our smallest moments, because even our little selves deserve love, too.

Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service