Since coming onto the scene in 2005, LAIKA has been making some of the most memorable, technologically advanced stop-motion feature films in history. That’s a tall order considering that stop-motion has been a tried-and-true animation method for well over 100 years. Long before computer-generated animation software made the impossible possible, stop-motion animators were painstakingly bringing dinosaurs, monsters of mythology, and sci-fi creations to life through the slow, laborious, frame-by-frame tweaks to lifeless models.
Today, LAIKA exists on the cutting-edge of computer-generated animation technology which the studio marries to the most advanced stop-motion puppetry out there. LAIKA’s puppets grow more and more expressive year after year thanks to 3D printing technology achievements that give animators access to a wider range of facial expressions, with incredible artistry from the craftspeople creating minuscule costumes and set decorations and highly interactive and meticulously engineered sets that form the backdrops of the studio’s fantastic stories. Couple these practical advancements with powerful computer software that can extend stop-motion animated scenes by adding characters, digital effects, and even creatures that would be far too small to be traditionally animated, and you have a winning combination for classic films with a strong following.
But even as animation technology continues to improve, LAIKA remains as committed as ever to making sure they have the right story, a story they will spend years animating. In their four solo productions, two have been original tales and two have been adaptations of beloved works. 2009 brought about the acclaimed adaptation of Neil Gaiman‘s story Coraline, followed by the original tale ParaNorman in 2012. Another adaptation followed in 2014 with The Boxtrolls, adapted from a section of Alan Snow‘s “Here Be Monsters!” while Kubo and the Two Strings was the studio’s latest original take, released in 2016. The studio has Missing Link on deck for an April 12th release in the U.S. this year.
So how does one rank these films when the filmmaking technology and source material are so different from one project to the next? The answer: very carefully. Let’s be clear in saying that the “worst” LAIKA film is still better than the majority of animated features out there and the “best” rivals popular live-action or traditionally animated films; all four have earned Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature. There’s a lot to love in each of these four films; some just came together better than others. Here’s how I think they stack up.