By: Brandon T. McClure
Outside of few exceptions, stop motion animation has gone out of favor with the general movie going audience. Hollywood studios rarely want to invest the time and money on projects that won’t yield a high reward. But there’s one studio that is trying to bring the magic and beauty of the art form: Laika. This studio is probably best known for putting out Coraline, since that’s the film that did the best due to a number of factors.
As of mid-April 2019, Laika has released five stop motion animated films, and they keep progressively doing worse at the box office. All five of Laika’s films do well critically, with the lowest rotten tomatoes score being Boxtrolls with 76%, and the rest ranging between 88%-96%. Missing Link will be the first outright bomb for the studio. The question becomes, is there an audience for this kind of animation anymore?
As mentioned before, Coraline is their most successful financially with $124.6 million globally, but that’s probably do to how the film was marketed. In the time since its release, Disney/Touchstone’s A Nightmare Before Christmas has become a cult classic, playing at many venues every year to celebrate, both, the Halloween and Christmas seasons. When Coraline was being released, it was marketed as “from the director of A Nightmare Before Christmas”.
Most people, by this time have forgotten that Tim Burton had not directed the film he’s, arguably, best known for. Henry Selick was the director, but between Coraline’s Burtonesque aesthetic and the fact it came hot off the heels of Avatar’s game changing 3D (Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland had found great success for a similar reason), the film became a hit.
Laika developed a bit of goth esthetic that they would keep throughout their next three films, most critics have described it as “Hot Topic Goth”. The momentum of Coraline did help but the other films proved harder to market. The type of films they were making, didn’t look like they would appeal to a wider audience. Laika created new techniques with stop motion, they used CG to enhance environments but never characters, they even created the first ever fully 3D printed model for Kubo and the Two Strings. But why should the general audience care when all they see is something that looks a little worse than a Pixar movie?
With that point, it should be noted that Laika’s stop motion is very good, but it’s polished, it’s not as rough as a film that Wes Anderson would make. When you see a film like Isle of Dogs and Fantastic Mr. Fox, you know they’re stop motion, they have a rough texture to them. When Kubo and the Two Strings was coming out, most thought it was a computer animated film, and it’s hard to get audiences to care about a film specifically for its art form.
Missing Link is a massive departure for the company, it’s unlike any film the company has made. The art form is there but the tone is completely different. With this film, it looked like they were hoping to attract a wider audience by making a film with a larger appeal then a film like ParaNorman. Critics see it as another triumph, currently sitting at a nice 89% on rotten tomatoes but it failed to even meet it’s projected $40 million opening and has so far only made $20 million total.
When a film bombs for a studio like Laika, it’s difficult to bounce back from it. Pixar might not be here today if, say, Finding Nemo bombed at the box office. Some restructuring will have to be done if the studio is to continue. The films have quality, or so the critics think. Stop motion is unlike every other animated form, and it’s not cheap. With any luck, Laika will find the financial success it deserves so they can keep making quality films, it’s hard for any studio to keep making films on critical reception alone.