LAIKA Studios Box Set

Animation is a brilliant art form. I have been fascinated by it from a very young age which evolved from Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry to watching Saturday morning cartoons to Nicktoons and beyond. For a long time, Pixar was my God of Animation starting with the premiere of Toy Story. I saw Toy Story five times in theater and, at the age of 13, I seriously considered studying animation so I could get into the business. I got lessons on how to use the program Raydream Design Studio so I could develop my own CGI. I went so far as to take a class on Saturdays at the Maryland Institute College of Art where I learned stop-motion animation. I never really cared about stop-motion too much since I didn’t know at the time that it was used for stuff like Star Wars. I just saw it as the artform that brought us kind of lame things like Gumby and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. That would soon change.

First I discovered Aardman studios and fell in love with Wallace and Grommit and I was impressed (and depressed) by Creature Comforts. Then a movie was released that blew my mind and changed my life forever and that’s no exaggeration. Of course, I’m talking about The Nightmare Before Christmas which was a brilliant film. It is often attributed to Tim Burton but it was directed and developed by Henry Selick. It felt like they took a slice of my life and transplanted it into a very spooky yet playful garden. It’s my go to movie when I’m depressed around the holidays.

I recently got a collection of all of the Laika Studios films and I decided to watch two of them over again and check out the newest selection.


Coraline

I am a huge fan of Neil Gaiman but I got on the fandom boat a little later than a lot of people. I actually started reading Gaiman with the introduction of The Graveyard Book and I am working on steadily consuming his work. One of the more recent things I got was Coraline because the movie was wildly popular and I wanted to read the book and watch the movie. I eventually broke down and watched the movie first and I was captivated by the glorious return of Henry Selick’s direction and the simple, relateable story. While the movie is different from the book, everyone involved took great pains to capture the spirit of the story and hit all of the key points. Coraline is a tale told about being careful what you wish for, not being so critical of what you have and appreciating those around you even though they’re not perfect. It’s also about monsters and interdimensional travel. It’s a really excellent movie that I’m glad to have in my collection to watch over again.


Paranorman

I will be honest here, I went into this movie with near zero expectations and I didn’t even realize it was from the same studio as Coraline until I looked it up afterward. It was a positively reviewed movie on Netflix and, as previously covered, I like spooky stuff. I remembered the trailer had zombies and ghosts and not much else. What I got was actually a pretty touching story about finding your place in the world and acceptance of who you are and the mistakes others make. At least, that’s what I took away from it. Also, the movie’s pretty funny even if it has a kind of mournful undertone through a lot of it. The trailers made this one look silly and fun and full of action but there is also a lot of emotion here. I definitely recommend it even though I probably just raised your expectations. It should meet them.


The Boxtrolls

Finally, I got to see the Boxtrolls and I soaked in the experience on full, glorious DVD on a spectacular 32″ television. Exquisite. All joking aside, I always want to go see animated films in theaters but pretty much nobody else I know wants to go see them. Also going to the movie theater is a crapshoot on the kind of crowd you’re going to get. Animated movies tend to be populated by families which can mean children who don’t understand the etiquette of a movie theater yet. I’d rather use Netflix or buy a DVD than attend the theater with that risk present. Though, I usually have a rule that I don’t buy DVDs of movies I haven’t seen yet so I don’t end up with a clunker taking up space. However, I make exceptions for movies that got enough good buzz or whose creators have good track records. So I took a chance on LAIKA studios because of Coraline and Paranorman being so good.

I didn’t really know what to expect because strangely enough, I never saw a trailer like I had for the previous two films. I knew a little bit because I had seen fleeting images on the internet and because I’m a fan of Kate Leth. So I had mixed expecations due to so many unknown unknowns. The first thing I noticed was that the studio really stepped up their game on the animation and the movie was even more beautiful than the previous two films. You know, as beautiful as the industrial age/steampunk world could be with all of the really grimy details. I can not say enough about the brilliant art direction since, because of the textures and detail, I often forgot the sets were models. The characters were all just as well-crafted and extremely expressive. It’s an amazing thing when animators or puppeteers can imbue an inanimate object with a soul.

The souls they put in were great too. I was really impressed with a great cast of performers who helped to breathe life into their characters. The characters were weird when they should be weird and touching when they should be touching. I was genuinely happy to meet the good guys and hated the bad guys with a passion. Except that it wasn’t always so black and white (a point that is brought up by some side characters throughout). Elle Fanning and a relatively unknown Isaac Hempstead Wright are brilliant as two children out of their element in a childish adult world. Among the adults are Nick Frost, Ben Kingsley, Simon Pegg, Dee Bradely Baker and plenty of other great actors.

The movie is about a lot of things but there are several themes that pop into my mind. I like how the movie points out how ridiculous normal society looks from the outside and that goes for both societies in the story. There was a definite focus on family and how important those closest to you are even if you don’t always like them. Social status is only as important as you make it and don’t try to be something you’re not. Good and evil are sometimes a matter of perspective and you can’t let yourself get blinded by the lies other people tell.

I whole-heartedly endorse watching this movie as I really had a good time watching it. I laughed, I felt and I had a lot of thought-provoking, philosophical moments. So the next time you think all animated movies are “just for kids”, think again.

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