LAIKA Studios celebrates 10 years of bold and memorable filmmaking this month. For a company whose name means “little barker” in Russian, Portland, Oregon-based LAIKA has made quite a noise in the global film industry over a relatively short time. With its world-class filmmaking team, LAIKA pushes the boundaries of family entertainment and animated movies, redefining what stories can and should be told through the art form.
“When LAIKA began we had a simple goal: to make movies that matter,” says Travis Knight, LAIKA’s President and CEO, who also is lead animator and a producer on its films. “LAIKA is devoted to telling new and original stories in new and original ways.”
“We aspire to make films that are bold, distinctive, and enduring,” Knight continues. “We are committed to telling stories that are thematically challenging, aesthetically beautiful, emotionally resonant, and a wee bit subversive. By combining stop-motion animation with cutting-edge creative approaches, we’ve embraced the fusion of art and craft and technology, honoring tradition while looking toward the future. We invented new systems and technologies for liberating the camera, to make our films more cinematic. We created new techniques for building and animating our puppets, to make our characters more lifelike and to connect more immediately and intimately with audiences. We discovered new processes for integrating practical and digital visual effects, to make our worlds more authentic. But we’re never satisfied. There’s an inherent restlessness at LAIKA. We always want to challenge ourselves.”
LAIKA began its unconventional cinematic journey with Coraline in 2009, continuing with ParaNorman in 2012 and The Boxtrolls in 2014. All three films featured LAIKA’s unique and innovative 3D stop-motion and CG hybrid technique. LAIKA’s original distribution partners, Focus Features and Universal Pictures International, remain the studio’s collaborators to this day. “We have the bravest distributors in the world,” says Knight. “They are lionhearted souls who took a chance on a ragged band of misfits from Oregon. Together, we share an abiding love for original stories and inventive storytelling.”
In addition to numerous critics’ awards and multiple Annie Awards (the animation community’s Oscars equivalent), all three of LAIKA’s feature films have been nominated for Academy Awards, BAFTA, and PGA Awards. The Boxtrolls also received a Golden Globe nomination; ParaNorman was cited as the year’s best animated feature by more critics’ groups than any other film in 2012, and Coraline was named one of the American Film Institute’s Top 10 Films of the year. “These last ten years have been magical,” says Knight. “But as I look forward, I’m more excited for what the future holds. We’re just getting warmed up.”
Knight, who makes his directorial debut with LAIKA’s next film, Kubo and the Two Strings (release date: August 19, 2016) adds, “Stripping everything else away, we’re simple storytellers. We’re the heirs of flamboyant stage magicians, plainspoken raconteurs spinning yarns around a campfire, and knuckle-dragging troglodytes scrawling stick figures on a cave wall. We believe telling stories is one of the prime functions of the human mind and spirit. A good story can elicit empathy, opening us up to new possibilities, to new ways of thinking, to recognizing the shared humanity in which we all participate. And, in the end, that’s ultimately LAIKA’s reason for being.”
Coraline (Release Date: February 6, 2009) Combining the visionary imaginations of two premier fantasists, director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) and author Neil Gaiman (Sandman), Coraline is a wondrous and thrilling, fun and suspenseful adventure and the first stop motion film ever to be conceived and photographed in stereoscopic 3-D, unlike anything moviegoers had ever experienced before. In Coraline, a young girl walks through a secret door in her new home and discovers an alternate version of her life. On the surface, this parallel reality is eerily similar to her real life – only much better. But when this wondrously off-kilter, fantastical adventure turns dangerous and her counterfeit parents try to keep her forever, Coraline must count on her resourcefulness, determination, and bravery to get back home and save her family.
Voice Cast: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Keith David, John Hodgman, Robert Bailey Jr., and Ian McShane. Produced by Bill Mechanic, Claire Jennings, Henry Selick, Mary Sandell. Based on the book by Neil Gaiman. Written for the Screen and Directed by Henry Selick.
ParaNorman (Release Date: August 17, 2012)
In the comedy thriller, a small town comes under siege by zombies. Who can it call? Only misunderstood local boy Norman, who is able to speak with the dead. In addition to the zombies, he’ll have to take on ghosts, witches and, worst of all, grown-ups, to save his town from a centuries-old curse. But this young ghoul-whisperer bravely summons up all that makes a hero – courage and compassion – as he finds his paranormal activities pushed to their otherworldly limits.
Voice Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch, Bernard Hill, Jodelle Ferland, Tempestt Bledsoe, Alex Borstein, and John Goodman. Produced by Arianne Sutner, Travis Knight. Written by Chris Butler. Directed by Sam Fell, Chris Butler.
The Boxtrolls (Release Date: September 26, 2014)
This comedic fable unfolds in Cheesebridge, a posh Victorian-era town obsessed with wealth, class, and the stinkiest of fine cheeses. Beneath its charming cobblestone streets dwell the Boxtrolls, foul monsters who crawl out of the sewers at night and steal what the townspeople hold most dear: their children and their cheeses. At least, that’s the legend residents have always believed. In truth, the Boxtrolls are an underground cavern-dwelling community of quirky and lovable oddballs who wear recycled cardboard boxes the way turtles wear their shells. The Boxtrolls have raised an orphaned human boy, Eggs since infancy as one of their dumpster-diving and mechanical junk-collecting own. When the Boxtrolls are targeted by villainous pest exterminator Archibald Snatcher, who is bent on eradicating them as his ticket to Cheesebridge society, the kindhearted band of tinkerers must turn to their adopted charge and adventurous rich girl Winnie to bridge two worlds amidst the winds of change – and cheese.
Voice Cast: Ben Kingsley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning, Dee Bradley Baker, Steve Blum, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, and Simon Pegg. Produced by David Bleiman Ichioka, Travis Knight. Screenplay by Irena Brignull, Adam Pava. Based on the book Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow. Directed by Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable.
Kubo and the Two Strings (Release date: August 19, 2016)
Kubo and the Two Strings is an epic action-adventure set in a fantastical Japan from acclaimed animation studio LAIKA, the film follows clever, kindhearted Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson of Game of Thrones) ekes out a humble living, telling stories to the people of his seaside town including Hosato (George Takei), Hashi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and Kamekichi (Academy Award nominee Brenda Vaccaro). But his relatively quiet existence is shattered when he accidentally summons a spirit from his past which storms down from the heavens to enforce an age-old vendetta. Now on the run, Kubo joins forces with Monkey (Academy Award winner Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey), and sets out on a thrilling quest to save his family and solve the mystery of his fallen father, the greatest samurai warrior the world has ever known. With the help of his shamisen – a magical musical instrument – Kubo must battle gods and monsters, including the vengeful Moon King (Academy Award nominee Ralph Fiennes) and the evil twin Sisters (Academy Award nominee Rooney Mara) to unlock the secret of his legacy, reunite his family and fulfill his heroic destiny.
Voice Cast: Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes, Art Parkinson, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brenda Vaccaro. Screenplay by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler. Produced by Arianne Sutner, Travis Knight. Directed by Travis Knight.