Laika's Wonderful World of Stop-Motion Animation
In only seven short years, Laika Animation Studios has produced a number of engaging stop-motion animation features, created with a stunning use of stop-motion animation in a creative use of the format, not to mention tackling themes and concepts not seen in your average Disney film.
Starting this weekend, Brooklyn-based cinematheque Metrograph will play host to each of Laika's four films to date, in their series From Coraline To Kubo: The Magic of Laika, moving in reverse chronological order with one film being shown in 3D per weekend. I decided to recap all of Laika's features to date, as they all in their own right worth seeing on the big screen with an audience.
As far as debut features go, Coraline clearly set the bar high for Laika’s later features to follow, in addition to showcasing just what they hope to provide – films designed to appeal to the young at heart while also not abstaining from perilous storylines. Overseen by director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas), it follows 11 year-old Coraline (voice of Dakota Fanning), who discovers an alternate reality in her new home where opposite versions of her parents and neighbors exist. While she is taken care of with great affection by these parallel beings, the fact that everyone in this parallel world has buttons sewn onto their faces where their eyes should be seems eerie at first, but she learns to accept it. When the offer to stay is bestowed onto Coraline by her Other Mother (voice of Teri Hatcher), she is apprehensive, and with good reason, as the dark truths which govern this domain soon come to light with consequences for Coraline’s real friends and family. A wonderful, creative and certainly chilling film, Coraline is a fantastic big-screen adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel, and it’s tremendous to see none of the source material’s atmosphere lost in translation.
Continuing the supernatural theme into their next feature, ParaNorman is a film that has quickly become a new Halloween classic, albeit one which is just as great to watch at any time of the year. It revolves around a young boy, Norman (voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee) who has the ability to speak to the deceased, despite the fact that nobody believes him. When his uncle (voice of John Goodman) informs him that his gifts are vital to protecting his town of Blithe Hollow from a witch’s curse that has reared its ugly head after many centuries, leading to an uprising of the dead, Norman convinces his friends to stand alongside him and save the day. Taking its tropes from many classic zombie films, ParaNorman is a great way to get younger children interested in horror, as it manages to be at once scary and clever, especially in terms of its utilization of humor. The directing team of Sam Fell and Chris Butler craft an engaging story about being an outsider in a place where the status-quo is above all else, and it includes a great anti-bullying message to boot.
The Boxtrolls (2014)
Heavily inspired by the steampunk subgenre, The Boxtrolls is an adaptation of Alan Snow’s novel Here Be Monsters! Set in a Victorian-era city, it concerns a species of sewer-dwelling creatures known as Boxtrolls, who kidnap a young boy named Eggs (voice of Isaac Hempstead Wright), later raising him as one of their own. When several Boxtrolls begin to disappear and a plot to eliminate them once and for all is revealed, Eggs must rise above ground to save his adopted family from the likes of an evil exterminator (voiced by Ben Kingsley). Another solid entry from Laika, this film from directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi succeeds by injecting a superb amount of visual detail and eccentric humor, making for an overly satisfying piece of entertainment for young kids and adults. The world-building at hand is more detailed than the animation company’s previous efforts, highlighted by the amount of craftsmanship within the animation and the story as well.
Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
Laika president and lead animator Travis Knight makes his directorial debut, with this story of an orphan with magical powers (voice of Art Parkinson) sought after by mystical beings in late Edo-era Japan. The boy, Kubo, teams up with Monkey (voice of Charlize Theron), the spirit of a prized charm given to him by his mother, and Beetle (voice of Matthew McConaughey), a warrior seeking to find his master, on a quest to save his village from the evil forces of the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), and the Sisters (voice of Rooney Mara). Taking inspiration from Japanese folklore, Kubo and the Two Strings is a visual feast, with stop motion animation that exceeds Laika's past efforts, at some points being so detailed it's hard to believe it's not CGI. Beautiful in its design and especially its story about the power of family, it's a shame that Kubo didn't make a bigger impact when it was released earlier this summer. Thankfully, the fact it has been brought back to cinemas means that more audiences have the chance to experience this wonderful film.
From Coraline To Kubo: The Magic of Laika begins at Metrograph on December 3rd and runs until December 26th.