There was a time when Pixar was the only studio capable of producing consistently amazing animated movies. Nowadays, it’s no longer the only game in town, having ceded part of the pie to its Disney overlords. Outside of Disney’s hallowed doors though, Laika has pioneered a decidedly more surreal and adult approach to the genre. The studio has specialized in gorgeous stop-motion animation, giving us movies like ParaNorman, Coraline, and The Boxtrolls. For Laika’s next effort, it’ll be going in a decidedly different direction.
Kubo and the Two Strings will take place in feudal Japan, telling the story of a young boy on a quest to save his family from evil spirits. The minute-long teaser released by Laika shows us dragons, ninjas, magic, and swordplay, and looks like nothing we’ve ever seen in the realm of animation. The studio has never been shy about taking audiences on a visual journey in a unique way, and that trend will continue with its next project, set to release in August 2016.
It’s Laika’s visual touch that sets the studio apart from its Disney and Pixar competitors, choosing to blend elements of stop motion with CGI. The result is a style you can spot from a mile away, that often looks more like a piece of art than simply a movie. When you figure in elements of classic Japanese art like the kind used for Kubo, you get a film that plays to the strengths of its studio’s creative decisions. You could watch any one of Laika’s movies on mute and still find yourself pulled in by the stunning visual elements. With Kubo and the Two Strings set to be directed by Laika President and CEO Travis Knight, it has the chance to become the defining work of the innovative animation studio.
To truly understand what makes Laika great, all you need to do is look at the animation landscape out there today. Pixar hit a home run with Inside Out early in 2015, but the rest of Hollywood’s animated offerings fall straight off a cliff after that. There’s not a lot out there in terms of adult themes, with most studios choosing to market movies like Minions, Home, and Hotel Transylvania directly at kids. Cartoons have long been the realm of the younger demographic, but if Laika and Pixar have taught us anything, it’s that there’s a well of untapped potential in infusing more mature elements into a medium generally meant for children.
If Kubo and the Two Strings is anything like Laika’s typical offerings, then we have a hard time it’ll be anything less than spectacular. Everything from the musical score to the hybrid CGI/stop-motion animation style stands out in the first teaser. Pixar certainly can’t be expected to be the only one carrying the torch for animation that explores deeply adult subject matter, making it that much more important for Laika to continue its stellar work sharing the load.
There are few studios (if any) willing to direct their animated films toward anyone over the age of 12. There even fewer willing to to make animation that doesn’t reside firmly in the comedy genre. Laika is the rare production house that does both, existing in a way that not even Pixar can compete with sometimes. Kubo and the Two Strings gives us a whole lot of reasons to continue to expect the same, and when it comes out next year, we could have the next animated masterpiece to come out of Laika.
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