Have you seen Kubo and the Two Strings yet? Five bucks says you just asked, “What the heck is that?” According to IMDB.com, that movie barely made more than its budget worldwide when it came out with a rather pitiful opening weekend.
It’s also one of the best animated movies I’ve ever seen. Another notch on the belt of Laika Entertainment. Who are they, you ask? Sheesh, y’all…
Laika is the production company behind Coraline, ParaNorman, The Box Trolls, and Kubo and the Two Strings. They specialize in dark-yet-colorful stop-motion animation with genius effects, storytelling, and characters. Sort of the spiritual brother to Batman the Animated Series. Boy, what I wouldn’t pay to see those two things combined!
Yet I constantly see them in the DVD bargain bin. Why? They’re worth so much more!
You might think stop-motion animation doesn’t sound appealing, so I’ll say one thing: The Nightmare Before Christmas. Remember that cult classic? Models with a thousand faces and poses that had to be moved for every single frame. And it’s immensely popular. Heck, it’s one-third of Hot Topic’s marketability!
Now add in more color, plus decades of advancement and refinement, and you have Laika. Just watch one clip on how Laika makes movies and you’ll be awestruck by the commitment to detail and the fusing of art and science that makes this animation technique work. It makes the finished product even more jaw-dropping.
True, it doesn’t have the classic beauty of 2D Disney or the crispness of 3D animation, but Laika’s artform takes incredible skill and gives us a lush product in its own right. You can’t just sketch a picture or make a computer program. You have to build sets, paint models, and painstakingly move everything inch by inch between frames.
It’s the closest animation gets to real life.
Masters of the PG Rating
Laika is not afraid of the dark. Their movies aren’t for little kids, but for slightly older ones. ParaNorman deals directly with classic horror icons like zombies, witches, and ghosts, and not cute little CG things either, but real attempts to frighten. Coraline boasted more unnerving elements, like the fact that everyone in Coraline’s “other family” has buttons for eyes, or the Other Mother’s spine-tingling transformation from sweet, playful matron to a nightmarish spider creature.
However, Kubo may be the most mature of them all. While not as scary, some elements are certainly dark. The film starts with a baby whose eyeball was taken from him, and when he grows up, his mother’s grasp on reality is slowly fading away. Even more harrowing is Kubo’s child-like yearning for his parents, and a reality that’s threatened left and right. Death is no stranger to this film. In fact, where most kids movies try to cut out all references to death or killing, Kubo flat-out tells the villain he’s going to kill him.
It’s the same genius as The Land Before Time. Putting children in these terrible situations is harrowing, but it only makes you root for them more. They’re kids, for pity’s sake! But Laika doesn’t shy away from darkness to make children giggle; it shows them that evil and danger are real, and more importantly, that evil can be overcome.
Kubo seems to have done just okay at the box office, and in Hollywood, “just okay” is lousy. All of Laika’s movies have received critical acclaim, yet I always see them in the $5 section at Target.
However, maybe we should see this as a blessing. If their movies are cheaper, that makes them more accessible, which means more people can see Laika’s incredible artwork and poignant storytelling. They certainly deserve as much.
So if you haven’t seen any of the flicks on this list, I highly encourage you to buy one. My personal recommendations are Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings, but any of them will show you their incredible artistic skill, their courage to enter the dark places of the world, and a special kind of beauty that no other animation studio can pull off.