Missing Link is Laika’s latest ambitious feature, and their first one not to star a young protagonist. Though the film currently holds a sparkling 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, box office pundits are predicting the Portland-based studio’s latest venture will only make about $8-12 million in its opening weekend.

Written and directed by Chris Butler, who previously wrote and co-directed Laika’s Paranorman, Missing Link is the first of Laika’s five features not to be distributed by Focus Features. This time around, the distribution is being handled by United Artists Releasing, which a joint venture between Annapurna Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, and Orion Pictures. Annapurna Pictures is also listed as a production company on the film. Like Focus Features, Annapurna is not particularly known for dealing with animation, but rather with sophisticated, awards-friendly dramas. But Annapurna has produced one animated hit in the past: the adult hit Sausage Party.

Despite a big push — the film will launch in 3,413 theaters — the projections don’t look promising for the movie about an adorable Sasquatch going on a globetrotting adventure in search of belonging. Unless Missing Link surprises at the box office, it could continue a concerning trend for Laika, in which each of their features has grossed less money at the domestic box office than its predecessor: Coraline ($75.2 million), Paranorman ($56M),The Boxtrolls ($50.8M), Kubo and the Two Strings ($48M).

On a positive note, the fact that Missing Link has garnered great praise from critics means the work of animators and craftspeople behind it isn’t going unnoticed.

Although several critics noted the story falters or didn’t particularly impress them, they generally enjoyed the humor, the sincerity of its themes, and above all, the stunning visual feats the filmmakers pulled off in this hybrid stop motion/cg adventure. Regardless of what some people think about the studio’s stories, one undeniable thing to praise about Laika is their commitment to creating new worlds and unique characters in original stories.

Here are some takes on the film from critics at major publications:

Varietys Peter Debruge was generally positive, but pointed out he prefers to be aware of the palpable stop-motion aspects of the film’s creation:

Watching Missing Link, audiences can no longer tell where the practical, stop-motion puppetry ends and computer effects take over. That may sound like a compliment, though the strange hybrid approach serves to obscure the hand-tooled aspect of the film. The result resembles Aardman’s The Pirates! Band of Misfits not just in flavor (that film took place at a time of early scientific exploration and featured both Charles Darwin and the queen as characters) but also to the extent that Butler embraces CG in order to deliver a more ambitious film. The truth is, far more of Missing Link was crafted in the real world than meets the eye, though audiences’ attention will most likely be fixated on the plot and characters — as well it should be.

Indiewire‘s David Ehrlich praise the risk Laika takes and the laborious efforts of the artists behind their features:

Thank God for Laika. At a time when convenience has become the determining factor of most artistic consumption, intellectual property is prized over actual creativity, and the great animation houses are either stuck in some kind of limbo (Studio Ghibli) or lost in the profit margins of their own mythology (Pixar), the Oregon-based stop-motion studio behind the likes of Coraline, Paranorman, and Kubo and the Two Strings is still chugging along, one painstaking shot at a time. The degree of care that goes into every detail of these movies almost requires a certain level of quality, as each handcrafted flourish is born out of a thousand hours of meticulous work.

Matt Zoller Seitz from RogerEbert.com enjoyed the sincerity of the story and the handcrafted process through which it was made:

The result is a narratively relaxed yet intensely tactile experience. By design, Missing Link lacks the video-gamey feel of so many contemporary cartoon films. It also lacks the reflexive smart-assness and seemingly mandatory slang and pop culture references that will be forgotten mere weeks after the movie’s release. There isn’t much to “get” at the level of plot or theme, but every frame has been built, composed, and lit with such care that I might try to see it a second time in a theater just to appreciate the look and sound of it.

The Guardian‘s Cath Clarke was blown away by the visuals and enjoyed how these paired with the voice acting:

Laika established its reputation with spooky-ooky kid horrors such as ParaNorman and Boxtrolls. Breaking with house style completely, this is brighter and funnier. The film’s eccentric characters and meticulously constructed world – all William Morris wallpaper and Savile Row tweed – feels more Wes Anderson than Tim Burton. It’s a feast of a movie with dazzling visuals and terrifically acted by the voice cast.

Missing Link opens today, April 12, in theaters across the U.S.

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