Upon the release of Coraline back in 2009, much before Studio Laika, two thoughts occurred to me:
Didn’t Tim Burton direct Nightmare Before Christmas?
This is going to be a cash in on Nightmare’s following.
Aside from my sad neglect for more than one name in the creation of a film (since rectified), I was absolutely delighted to be proven wrong. Coraline continues to fascinate me to this day; a film that brings adults into a younger, awestruck mindset, then scares all ages equally because of it. The voices were perfect, the animation was spectacular and the story genuinely innovative and captivating. Studio Laika was now on my radar.
Skip ahead to 2012 and Laika’s next full project ParaNorman.
Again, after watching trailers I was skeptical (my faith in all trailers is pretty pitiful) but I was once again proven wrong.
In my eyes ParaNorman surpassed Coraline with a frank and emotional treatment of topics which I have never seen addressed in a childrens film, or even few movies at all to the same effect. The benchmark for this studio was cemented for me and I couldn’t wait for the next dose.
The Boxtrolls from last year was good. But it didn’t come close to Laika’s previous creations. There was plenty of good action, superb animation and modelling, a simple plot for kids to understand, jokes for all ages and one or two superb characters. Yet it still felt hollow. The heart was there but nothing dared to go all-out, there were no challenges to any audiences. In short, rather than being sucked in and living the story I was painfully aware that all of what I was seeing was planned out.
For example, celebrity voices have always been in Laika’s films, but in this instance the celebrity shines through the character and breaks all immersion. Whilst Ben Kingsley admirably brings Snatcher to gruesome life, Mr. Pickles is a mere microphone for Richard Ayoade. Now, I have absolutely nothing against Ayoade’s acting ability or talent in general, but I was ripped back into my seat whenever hearing his lines.
Most of the blame for this is with the characters themselves.
With none of the slow build up and character development Laika’s previous films had, Boxtrolls jumped straight into the action, resulting in a cavalcade of cardboard cutouts performing a pantomime. By every standard a pretty good pantomime (I still bought the DVD and will watch it again), but when the last project was Shakespeare the script simply cannot compare.
Laika’s next film, Kubo and the Two Strings sees Travis Knight take the helm in late 2016, and despite a minor bump in the road I honestly cannot wait. Oh, and if anyone hasn’t seen ParaNorman yet, do it. Now.