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Is Laika's Creative Loop Real or Imaginary?

by Charles Kenny
December 8, 2013 8:00 PM
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Portland-based animation studio Laika are currently hot stuff. They only have two completed features with a third on the way but they have managed to garner plenty of critical and fan acclaim in addition to decent commercial success with films Coraline and ParaNorman. Their latest film, The Boxtrolls, is set for release in September, 2014 but it's similarity to it's sister films once again raises the question as to whether Laika is stuck in a creative loop of sorts.

Of course, that isn't to say that they make poor films; far from it. They've been rightfully praised for not only their superb quality, but also for offering an alternative to the brazen CGI comedic efforts of other studios. The decision to go in the the dark, scary direction obviously sets them apart and they play that to maximum stop-motion advantage with all kinds of weird and wacky characters, sets and special effects along the way.

That said, all three films share an inescapably similar look and tone - take another look at the trailers below. They're dark and quirky in the horror mold and have kids as their central character. It could be argued that Laika have discovered a bit of a niche and have settled into it quite nicely by creating films with a known and winning formula. Proof of being stuck in a creative loop surely, no?

On the other hand however, it's necessary to consider their output in the grander scheme of things. Laika have proven to be the only animation studio not to suffer from sequalitis and their films, while sharing similar traits, could not be said to be as overtly similar as pretty much all the 3-D CGI features that hit the market after Shrek. For that alone, they continue to be a pioneer and innovator of feature animation.

Charles Kenny writes prolifically on his own blog, The Animation Anomaly.

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More: Laika Studios, The Boxtrolls


  • Larry | December 10, 2013 5:13 PMReply

    Boxtrolls hasn't come out yet, and neither of the trailers showed any actual dialog or scenes from the film (other than in montage). How can we judge tone? Also, it's set in a Victorian English town at the turn-of-the-century... that seems pretty different than modern day Massachusetts or Portland...

  • eetees | December 9, 2013 4:54 PMReply

    Charles Kenny wrote that, " ... all three [of LAIKA's] films share an inescapably similar look and tone ..."

    as opposed to ...?

    can you name a studio whose cartoons didn't/doesn't share a similar look and tone? if you saw an animated cartoon without its titles from mgm, or warner brothers, or famous studios, or hanna barbera, or jay ward, or miyazaki, or Pixar, etc etc ... wouldn't you find " ... an inescapably similar look and tone ..." ?

    and doesn't this apply to all artists? music artists (Sinatra, Presley), fine artists (Picasso, Rembrandt), writers (Vonnegut, Poe), etc all have themes and styles that they prefer and repeat, and their work is also instantly recognizable.

    that Laika would choose certain styles of art and certain story themes is neither unusual nor unexpected.

  • Jason F | December 9, 2013 9:21 AMReply

    As much as I adore their previous films, my major issue with Laika (or at least their marketing) is that their major selling point is "the crafting" of their films. So many of the ads for their films are essentially "look how meticulous we are," when a much better direction is to hook the audience with the story. To an artist or an animator, we can appreciate and admire the work that goes into one of their films, but children/families/average movie goers probably don't find that as interesting.

  • Charles Kenny | December 9, 2013 9:35 AM

    If I had to pinpoint Laika's true weak spot it would be in the story department. They come up with great ideas but they never seem to fire on all cylinders once on-screen.

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