If there is one thing that links all of Laika Animation’s film, it’s family. Coraline and her ‘other’ mother, Norman and his doubting family as well as his deceased Grandmother, Eggs and his unconventional Boxtrolls and Kubo dealing with the loss of his parents while he fights his demonic aunts and evil Grandfather.
Each film is about family, for better or for worse, and Laika’s latest, Missing Link, is no different, as Mr Link, otherwise known as Susan, sets off around the world in search of his distant cousins.
With the release of Missing Link this month, we take a look at and rank Laika’s previous works:
4. Boxtrolls (2014, Dir. Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi)
Based on the novel ‘Here Be Monsters!’ by Alan Snow, this Victorian-era fantasy takes place above and below the fictional town of Cheesebridge. With rumours and lies, the evil red-hatted Archibald Snatcher convinces the town that the trolls that dwell in the sewers are cannibal baby kidnappers and vows to catch every last one of them. But little does he know of the Boxtrolls (trolls who wear boxes) are actually gentle and clever inventors who have been raising Eggs, a boy orphaned one tragic night.
The film had one of the most progressive trailers for a children’s film, with the message that families come in all shapes and sizes. For Eggs, his family are the Boxtrolls who raised, fed, sort of clothed him and kept him safe. The rather strangely adorable Boxtrolls are the true underdog of the story and everyone loves an underdog, right?
Although story wise not as in-depth as the previous Laika films, it makes up for this with not only one of the best villains of recent years, but also one of the most grotesque. In fact, that is a detail that plays throughout, with not only the villains but the ‘good’ townsfolk leaning more disgusting nature, so much so, that you won’t look at cheese in the same way again.
3. ParaNorman (2012, Dir. Sam Fell, Chris Butler)
Laika’s follow up to the now (I think we can say it) cult masterpiece Coraline was always going to be difficult. But with a story about a boy, Norman, who can speak to the dead, they were tapping into Sixth Sense level horror. Adding in the impending doom of a witch’s curse and a group of Puritan age zombies, they created a horror for children.
Norman is not like all the other kids, he’s a horror enthusiast and seems comfortable bumping into all the ghosts he meets on his way to school. Obviously, his unique quirk makes him a target for bullies, adults and children alike. But Norman also happens to be the only person who can stop a very real curse taking over their town. The typical slasher supernatural horror film tropes are switched on their heads here, with a mob attacking the cowering zombies and the real truth behind the unjust witch trial that caused this very curse is explored.
The story is about fear and facing up to others and not asking for forgiveness but letting go and forgiving others for what they have done. A horror film with heart and a lesson in seeking the truth, and of course, accepting others for who they are, obviously.
2. Coraline (2009, Dir. Henry Selick)
The penultimate spot has to go to the first Laika animation, the blue-haired, yellow mac wearing heroine herself, Coraline. She’s a peach, she’s a doll, she’s a pal of mine (imagine the music). Based on Neil Gaiman’s terrifying anti-fairytale of the same name about a girl who finds a duplicate version of her own world, complete with everything she could ever want and parents who don’t ignore or scold her.
But as with every happy pleasurable thing, there is a price to pay. In order to stay in this fantasy of a world, she must sow buttons into her eyes, which her scarily over eager ‘other’ mother wants her to do. Just like any child, Coraline decides not to but in turn, incurs the wrath of a witch scorned.
This is, of course, another horror film for children, but its also a feast for the eyes (not buttoned) with all the wonders created, from better neighbours, better friends, a jumping mouse circus and one hell of an amazing garden. Like other fairytales, Coraline must endure a challenge to not only save herself but her real parents too. There is mystery, terror and at times, pure joy in this masterpiece and can really only be rivalled by Laika’s last film…
1. Kubo and the Two Strings (2017, Dir. Travis Knight)
Stepping further than the animation studio has gone before, with not only the scale of their models to create the nightmarish demons Kubo has to fight, but in terms of setting, story and characters, Kubo and the Two Strings is a beyond beautiful animated story with fairytale-like endurance from the heroes and villains alike about a boy who defeats evil with his courage and yes, his two strings.
Just like heroes and heroines before him in the Laika world, Kubo is special. He can create wonders with his shamisen but with the power comes great misery and pain.
Beginning with a fairytale romance between the Moon King’s daughter and a great warrior, Kubo’s parents were torn apart. Kubo, left with one eye after the other was stolen by his Grandfather, sets out on a quest to avenge his parents with the help of a snow monkey and a stag-beetle-human hybrid. Odd choices at first, but with most weird and wonderful stories of this nature, they prove far more than they appear.
As the story is set in Japan, this is a whole new culture to create for Laika and they do not waste a moment to impress with beautiful artwork as well as fantastical characters and creatures. The nature of the story also marks an emotional growth for Laika as Kubo is a tragic tale of loss and heartache. Family feuds aside, the heartless Moon King and his demonic twin daughters are cruel and show no remorse for their actions. Kubo really does carry the weight of the loss of his parents on his shoulders, forcing him to maybe grow up faster than any of the other Laika heroes and heroines. Kubo’s story is full of fantasy and fairytale-like horror but stands alone as an adventure and discovery of what will come next and does not dwell on the ghosts of the past.
The latest Laika film, Missing Link, is in cinemas now.
(Official release on April 12th)