For those of you who have limited your animated film selection to old nineties cartoons and the latest Pixar movie of the month, then you’re missing out. There’s way more to the animation world than just that. An example of a great, yet completely underrated animated film company is Laika. Laika Films is a smaller, more unknown film company to some. To others, it’s known as a major competitor and the creator of some of the best animated films of the twenty-first century.
Animated is actually a loose term to use for these types of movies, since each one is solely done in Claymation for the most part. It’s done so well, sometimes you forget about that aspect. Think you haven’t seen any of their movies? You probably have. The four movies they have done are Coraline, ParaNorman, Boxtrolls, and Kubo and the Two Strings. All of these are highly praised, well reviewed, and greatly beloved films with a fantastic fan base.
Laika began in 2005 with the idea of combining something old, like stop-motion animation, with twenty-first century appeal. Their films are filled with purpose and they take story-telling seriously. There will be no fluff films from these guys just to make a buck. Nor will they ever do a sequel to any film they create. They care more than that. Each film receives Oscar nominations and tons of respect. They aren’t receiving this type of feedback for no reason.
At the head of the company is Travis Knight who just directed his first film, Kubo and the Two Strings. Knight is the CEO and president of Laika. What’s interesting about Knight is how he ended up in his position. He was actually once a rap musician. This was during the time when he was trying to find himself. Knight always put a lot of pressure on himself because of his dad. He would watch his dad work hard and be successful and Knight wanted the same. His dad’s company? Nike. His father is Phil Knight, one of the funders of Nike, Inc. No big deal, right?
Travis Knight wanted to do his own thing and make his own way which is how Laika was born. One of the only film companies solely focused on Claymation, they’ve succeeded in their uphill battle of showing viewers that this type of movie can still be great to watch. Claymation is different, but still similar enough for viewers to relate to. It teeters on feeling real, but not real at the same time. To think of how much time and effort goes into creating just one scene, it can give you a headache. From creating the character figures, to moving everything just the right way, to creating storylines that work with Claymation itself, Laika has proven time and time again that they are the leaders in this specific genre of an industry.
The best movie, by most people’s opinions, would be Coraline, the original feature film by Laika. The one that started it all, Coraline tells the story of a young girl whose family moves to “The Pink Palace Apartments” which ends up being this old mansion styled haunted house. And yes, it is in fact painted pink. The owner of the apartments refuses to let her grandson in it due to a whole bunch of crazy things that happens to the children who walk in. Coraline though isn’t afraid of a thing! Through her explorations, she finds herself in an alternative universe where everything seems great… until it’s not.
Laika’s mission is to relate to everyone: kids and adults alike. This film sets the tone for their whole franchise. It is brilliantly written, beautifully strange, and incredible to look at.
What Coraline taught us about Laika is that they aren’t really a child-focused animation studio. Their films are dark and sometimes a bit too much for little ones. It’s intended for families as whole unit, so it needs to appeal to everyone. It has a give and take sort of feel to it. Each of the four films revolve around family interaction. Knight has stated that Kubo and the Two Strings is the last film in their first “cycle” of films. He’s talked about how their future films won’t be focused on children as their main characters. This switch to have adult protagonists is a major step and could be absolutely amazing, but also has the chance of ruining everything they’ve built.
Changing their format isn’t a huge deal when you think of it vaguely. The major audience usually isn’t kids. Only their last movie, Kubo and the Two Strings, is a film that draws in children more than adults. Even then, that film is still very deep, dark, and thoughtful. Therefore, adults love it to. Coraline’s main fanbase revolves around geeks who are older than Coraline herself, not really young kids. The idea of changing up the format to focus on adults isn’t too far of a stretch, though it will be reaching a new level of entertainment that hasn’t really been seen yet.
Adult cartoons are usually grotesque or have humor you would never see in animation for kids. Laika still wants their films to be able to seen by the whole family, just not with a child as the protagonist. This idea of having adult main characters, with an animated Claymation style of film, made for the whole family is a completely new territory for the entertainment world. If anyone can accomplish this, it’s Laika. That being said, it’s still a risk to transition into this new territory when their films focused on child protagonists have proven to be incredibly successful. Some might question it. Why change it if it isn’t broken? Others seem to trust in Laika’s process and believe it can be done.
We should hear word on what Laika’s next project will be sometime later this year. Laika has only focused on one project at the time, but they are expanding and will try to start working on two films at once. This is another thing that’s worrisome. Fans of Laika’s productions love all the detail that is put into their films. Hopefully though, they have it handled and we will soon learn what their next movie, or movies, will be.
Laika has taken Claymation to the next level. Their films are unique, beautiful, imaginative, intelligent, and amazing to look at. It’s everything you want a movie to be and more. If for some reason you were able to avoid their films, take the time to watch each one. Start with Coraline and then go from there. All their movies are streaming which should bring in even more fans than ever before. The franchise is brilliant and Laika has absolutely wedged their own space into the creative circle of animation.