Monday, April 8, 2019

Sasquatch Spotted in Sunny L.A: Missing Link Press Junket and Review

Disclosure: This post is written in partnership with United Artists
Hey guys! Let me tell you about my trip to LA that just fell into my lap. Completely unexpectedly. You see, Danielle’s been doing such a boss job with this blog and at her actual job that she is now needed on both coast simultaneously. Not being able to teleport and not wanting to lose an important link in the network, Danielle texted me on Tuesday of last week to ask if I’d be able to go to Los Angeles this weekend. I would be attending a screening of the movie “Missing Link” and a press junket where not only would I be in the room with Zoe "IT’S-FREAKIN-GAMORA!" Saldana and Zach Galafinakis but I’d actually be not only allowed to but absolutely encouraged to talk to them!
All this while staying at The Beverly Hilton!! With all expenses paid!!! I checked our family calendar and by some blessed coincidence, we had nothing planned for that weekend. None of my three kids had any activities. There were no birthday brunches. We didn’t even have any house viewings scheduled (we’re currently house hunting in Jersey). All this added up to a resounding LET’S DO THIS and by Thursday I had my tickets in hand.

About the Film:

This April, meet Mr. 
Link: 8 feet tall, 630 lbs, and covered in fur, but don’t let his appearance fool you… he is funny, sweet, and adorably literal, making him the world’s most lovable legend at the heart of Missing Link, the globe-trotting family adventure from LAIKA. Tired of living a solitary life in the Pacific Northwest, Mr. Link recruits fearless explorer Sir Lionel Frost to guide him on a journey to find his long-lost relatives in the fabled valley of Shangri-La. Along with adventurer Adelina Fortnight, our fearless trio of explorers encounter more than their fair share of peril as they travel to the far reaches of the world to help their new friend. Through it all, the three learn that sometimes you can find a family in the places you least expect.

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana, Zach Galifianakis, Timothy Olyphant, David Walliams, Emma Thompson, Matt Lucas, Ching Valdes-Aran, Stephen Fry, Amrita Acharia
Director: Chris Butler
Writer: Chris Butler
Producers: Travis Knight p.g.a., Arianne Sutner p.g.a.

I took the earliest flight out on Saturday meaning I was going to land in LA before noon. But somehow we landed ahead of schedule and I was actually in the HOTEL before noon. I arrived at the Beverly Hilton fully expecting to have to hang out in the lobby while my room was being readied because check-in isn’t until 3 pm. So imagine how happy I was to hear that my room was ready! This changed everything!! You should know that this was my first trip to LA ever and I was only going to be there for a total of 27 hours, two-thirds of which were already devoted to events surrounding the movie. With my room being ready this early, it meant that I now had a solid 4 hours to go and do some sightseeing in LA.

On my way up to my room, I gleefully racked my brain for a tourist trap most worthy of my tiny time window. But as I stepped off the elevator and charged down the long corridor towards room 237, it hit me. For the first time in at least 15 years, I was about to stay in a hotel room entirely by myself – with no kids, with no husband, with no friends, no family. So guess what was the first thing I did when I entered room 237? I jumped. I jumped up and down. I jumped up and down on the bed. I jumped for joy, vigorously and repeatedly, on that King-sized, glorious, it’s-all-mine-tonight bed until I was out of breath and smiling from ear to ear.
Once I got that out of my system, I returned to the matter at hand – what to do? Where to go? What to eat? I knew I had to eat and it had to be fast. I also knew I couldn’t wander off too far from Beverly Hills. That and it wouldn’t have made much sense to visit any place that charged admission because I just wouldn’t have the time to see all of whatever places that charge admission have to offer. The food part was easy – In-N-Out Burger. It was my first time having In-N-Out and I was secretly hoping it wouldn’t be as good as Five Guys. Alas, the Double-Double was phenomenal. It hit the spot with laser point precision.

My next spot was just as easy to pick. Here’s a not so secret, secret about me – I LOVE the beach. So being within a 20-minute drive to the coast of the Pacific Ocean, with temperatures well above 70, there was only place to go. There was only Santa Monica Beach. And I am so glad I did. The warm sand, the gentle low tide, the beaming sun – wherever in the world I may find myself, that combination grounds me, soothes me and recharges me all at once.

With my tiny time window closing, I caught an uber back to the hotel because it was time to go to work (ok fine, I made a pit spot to eat some tacos. Can you blame me?). And by work I mean, get driven around LA atop of a double-decker bus, eat some CPK and watch beautifully-made, world-spanning action-adventure buddy comedy that leaves you entertained and rested.

Now, I know that’s a weird way to describe the film, but I mostly mean it in juxtaposition to the quick cuts, multiple storylines of the Lego-Movie-type cartoons that are so packed with self-referential meta-humor that you’re busy scanning your brain for appropriate pop culture references even before you hear the punch line.  That can be exhausting.
“Missing Link” is not that movie.

It’s a palette cleanser. Rooted in the unlikely friendship between a mythical creature (Mr. Link) and an adventurer whose goal in adventuring is to prove the existence of mythical creatures (Sir Lionel Frost), the movie centers on themes of identity and belonging. Mr. Link, believing himself to be the last of his kind, is lonely and needs Sir Lionel’s help to get to his distant relatives in Shangri-La. Sir Lionel is desperately seeking acceptance from his fellow adventurers and needs Mr. Link to prove his worth as the world’s foremost investigator of myths and monsters. When they initially join up, it’s a transactional relationship where each character agrees to cross the world three times over with someone they think they have nothing in common with, hoping to hear “You are welcome here” once they each get where they’re going. But things rarely turn out as we hope. It’s the journey that allows for space and the time for each character to determine who they are and who they can be just by sharing the experience with a person who, at the onset, seems entirely different. Motivations get reevaluated, idealized “happy endings” prove to be harshly lacking in compassion and the validation you seek ends up coming from the most unlikely place. All this happens while our fearless explorers encounter more than their fair share of peril, stalked at every turn by villains seeking to thwart their mission.

The character of Adelina deserves special mention. Not only is she an independent and resourceful heroine, but she is also the moral compass of the film. It is she who nudges, scolds, encourages and sometimes even throws bowls at our protagonists just to get them on the right path to self-betterment. It’s a rich story with plenty of nuances and, happily for the audience, none of it was lost when translated through the medium of stop-action animation.
Fortunately for us, with this film, LAIKA has made incredible strides in the technology and engineering behind this particular storytelling craft. The characters themselves, for example, are incredibly expressive thanks to 3D printing technology. For “Missing Link”, LAIKA was able to 3D print custom animated facial performances for every character in every shot of the film. Overall, 106,000 faces were printed. About 39,000 were Lionel faces; about 27,000 were Link faces and about 13,000 were Adelina faces.  It is no surprise then, with such a range of expressions available to them, that the filmmakers were able to tell the stories of these characters with so much care and detail.

Leaving the theater, I was feeling emotionally rested but physically exhausted. After all, for me, it was actually 3 hours later than for the rest of LA and I had been up since 4:30 that morning. And keeping the time difference in mind, I knew I’d definitely be up before the sun the following day. So I planned ahead. I preordered breakfast from room service, climbed into my big, ol’ bed and drifted off to sleep blissfully alone. And wouldn’t you know it, there was a knock on my door at 7 am sharp. I ate my delicious food in bed, surrounded by every section of the Sunday New York Times, downing at least 3 cups of coffee before I was done. It was the most leisurely thing I had done for myself and by myself in a very long time. And it was heaven.
And I guess if you have to leave heaven, going to chat with Zoe Saldana and Zach Galafinakis isn’t a bad place to land. But first, you have to figure out “What am I gonna wear?!” Because what does an average human woman wear knowing she’ll be in the presence of the female goddess that is Zoe???? When in doubt about outfits, my default is to overdress so that’s what I did. Bright and colorful dress, strappy heels, curls in my hair, hoops in my ears – not your standard Sunday brunch attire but then again, these were not your standard Sunday brunch circumstances. I marched my overdressed self down to the event space on the ground floor of the Beverly Hilton and was welcomed by even more delicious breakfast food. But the first squeals of excitement were caused by the actual puppets that were used in the movie. The figurines were on display in one of the rooms and came along with one of the animators that worked on the movie. Fed and giddy, our group of parent bloggers was led into the panel room. The talent arrived a few minutes later – quite unceremoniously - lead by Zach, followed by Zoe and director Chris Butler. They were all very warm and engaged throughout the duration of the junket.

Zoe surprised me by being exactly who she presents herself to be on most of her platforms – a self-possessed grown woman who is accessible, intelligent, and has a healthy respect for her craft and the people involved in it. She told us about the time she got to visit LAIKA’s sprawling studio campus in Hillsboro, Oregan. “My husband and I were able to fly to Portland, Oregon for a day and do some more, you know, voice works with Chris [Butler, the director]. But we toured the whole studio, and we were in awe. It's almost like you're challenged after you experience a studio like Laika to kind of like up your game. […] Cause everybody that works at like a studio is like you can only imagine - like they skip to work. And they're probably like all vegetarians.” And she says this only to have the director quip: “And they crawl home.” To which the room burst out laughing.

(above) Director Chris Butler and actor Timothy Olyphant

That happened a lot when Chris spoke mostly because he spoke a lot. He definitely dominated the conversation but not in a tyrannical way, but as one does talking about a passion project that has been 15 years in the making and has finally come to fruition. And it’s a passion he must have been born. He shared with us a recollection from his early childhood. At one point, our conversation turned to how we should encourage and enable our own children to explore filmmaking should they show interest in it. Chris’ take: “Apparently, I told my mum that I wanted to direct animated movies when I was three. […] And I managed it when I was 40 so, well done.”

Of this trio, Zach was the most subdued. He just sat back, doodled on his pad and spoke when he was spoken to. But his answers were so thoughtful and generous that it’s no wonder Mr. Link turned out so endearing on screen. Here’s what Zach said about conveying the most defining trait of this character: “You know, the thing that I really like about Mr. Link, I miss it, is innocence. I miss it and having kids you get to see it, you know. And I'm like, "Oh my god, what happened to me?"  And I think because he's in the woods, he has an innocence and purity to him. Cause when he sees the outside world, what human beings have done, he’s like-- that to me, if you're in nature you have this purity, and this kind of wide-eyed type thing and I thought that's just the way this character should be played.”
This sentiment really could be applied to most aspects of this movie – reclaiming of a certain kind of innocence in animated storytelling that’ll have, leaving the theater feeling a little bit purer instead of a whole lot cooler. And that can be a welcomed change.

That’s exactly what this trip was for me – a very welcome, albeit incredibly brief, change. I would like to thank Danielle for trusting me with this assignment. Accepting it ripped me out of my daily reality in the best possible way. Being flung across the country with little notice and with one clear goal-filled my cup to the brim. It gave me an opportunity to reconnect with my core self which in turn recharged all my other selves – the mom-self, the wife-self, the friend-self, the daughter-self. So yes, looking back at pictures with celebrities will always put a smile on my face but the memory of a leisurely breakfast in bed (that I didn’t have to cook or clean up after) at the Beverly Hilton on a sunny California Sunday morning has now been filed in the “My Happy Place” mental folder, making it easily available for a serenity boost anytime.

Official Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | #MissingLink

Contributing Writer: Marta Glogowski is a Queens WAHM to a gaggle of three, who you can find on Instagram creatively setting pictures to words and giving a voice to the stories we ultimately have to tell for ourselves.

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