The Delightful Progressiveness of Laika

By  · Published on July 29th, 2016

How the studio behind Coraline, ParaNorman, and more has been pushing boundaries for years.

Animation giants Pixar and DreamWorks, look out. Laika Entertainment is hot on your tail with their unique blend of stop-motion and VFX films. They have a 100% record of Academy Award nominations for their offbeat stories Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls, respectively. The independent studio has earned its reputation for daring to zig where Pixar or DreamWorks zag with films that are just as gutsy as they are fantastical. The films are openly progressive, featuring complex female heroines and LGBT characters.

Laika studios burst onto the animation scene in 2009 with their first feature film Coraline. It made almost $17 million at the box office opening weekend and earned the studio their first Academy Award nomination. It stood out from the rest of the nominees that year because of its spunky and multidimensional heroine. She does not need rescuing or a love interest to fall back on. Her nemesis is a woman who proves to be a wicked and strong foil to Coraline’s curiosity and courage. Coraline takes charge of her own adventure and her male sidekick takes direction from her, rather than taking charge. This film told its younger audience that girls can kick butt and save the day.

In 2012, Paranorman featured the first gay character in an American animated film. One of my favorite aspects about this film is that our expectations are totally flipped on their heads. It made total sense for this film to be about the intolerance kids who are different might experience and to have a gay character. The character, Mitch, is just an ordinary jock who we expect to be straight, but the reveal of his sexuality is played off as just a part of his life. A girl asks him to go to a movie and he casually says, “Sure, you’ll just love my boyfriend,” who really loves chick-flicks. The film does not make a big deal about dwelling on his sexuality, but rather focuses on teaching kids that people are not always what we expect them to be.

Their third feature film, The Boxtrolls, waved its boundary breaking flag even before it premiered in 2014. One of the film’s initial teasers opened with a voice saying, “Sometimes there’s a mother, sometimes a mother and a father, sometimes there’s a father and a father, sometimes both fathers are mothers.” When the film opened, audiences were quick to point out that there was a character who dresses in drag and is referred to as Madame Frou Frou. Many of the male characters are shown to be attracted to her. The main message of this movie is to have courage to your true self, whomever that may be, and to take a stand against prejudices and oppression.

Now, Kubo And The Two Strings, their fourth film is set to open on August 19th. This film draws heavily on Japanese culture, art, and folklore. Kubo, the hero, is about to embark on a quest to save his mother and fight some vengeful spirits with the help of a talking monkey and a humorous bulky beetle. The most recent trailer promises that the female characters will be just adventurous and bold as the male protagonist. The badass monkey Kubo travels with is shown putting her companions in place and also fighting Rooney Mara’s nefarious looking Sisters. Kubo’s magical powers give the trailer a chance to show off some of the beautiful visuals that Laika is known for. Kubo’s voice cast is full of all-stars such as Matthew McConaughey, Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes, and George Takei as well as numerous Asian-Americans in various supporting roles. Kubo And The Two Strings is sure to add to Laika’s history of being the most daring animation studio around.

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