The heat behind Laika, the Portland, Oregon-based stop motion animation studio (owned by Nike bigwig Phil Knight) that unleashed 2009's outstanding fantasy film "Coraline," has cooled somewhat since that release. The reason, of course, is that "Coraline" director (and Laika creative head) Henry Selick left the company shortly after "Coraline" was released – after unsuccessfully attempting to renegotiate his contract, he bolted for Pixar, setting up that studio's first stop-motion division (about which we have heard precious few details, besides an October 4th, 2013 release date for its first film).
But that doesn't mean the company isn't cooking up new material – next summer will see the release of "ParaNorman," a spooky tale about a small town overrun by zombies co-directed by Aardman vet Sam Fell, and they've just announced the purchase of an intriguing-sounding property, "Wildwood," a young adult fantasy novel written by the Decemberists' lead singer Colin Meloy and illustrated by his wife Carson Ellis.
The book, which came out just last week, concerns a young protagonist named Prue McKneel who must navigate a magic-filled alternate version of Portland, Oregon, after her younger brother is kidnapped. Sounds a little "Coraline"-y, no?
Laika President and CEO (and Phil Knight's son) Travis Knight described the project to Variety as "a story in the grand tradition of Tolkien, as big as 'Lord of the Rings' with a wonderful contemporary quality as well." He added that the project should be genuinely groundbreaking: " "Nothing of its kind has been attempted in our medium. You have these epic scenes alongside very nuanced character moments, which are the two hardest things to do in stop-motion. It's exciting to imagine how this might all come together."
The report notes that despite Laika's resistance to sequels, the "Wildwood" project is being approached as a trilogy (there will be two more novels as well). According to Knight, Meloy and Ellis only wanted the book adapted if it could be done in stop motion or in the earthy animated style of "Watership Down."
"Hands down, there is no other movie studio in the world besides Laika that I would entrust 'Wildwood' to," Meloy told Variety. Meloy first was introduced to the world of Laika when publisher HarperCollins wanted an animated trailer for the novel. "We were won over completely," Ellis added.
There's no telling when "Wildwood" might be ready for release, given its current embryonic stage and the fact that stop-motion movies take a really, really, ridiculously long time to develop and animate. Laika currently hasn't announced their 2014 project, but we sincerely doubt this would be realized by then. Still: it's an intriguing-sounding (if slightly familiar) project for the animation studio and should be proof that, even without Selick, they can still create ambitious and wildly imaginative projects.