Sunday, August 21, 2016

Not Stopping: LAIKA CEO Talks Future Plans

Four films in, the little Portland-based LAIKA now has a big game plan...

In speaking with animation historian John Canemaker, LAIKA CEO - and also son of Nike's founder - Travis Knight talked about LAIKA's future, and what their next animated feature will be like...

Knight says that the film will not focus on childhood like the first four LAIKA films did, but will focus on adulthood will still being a family-friendly release. Key themes in it will be "loss and grief", but also "healing, compassion, forgiveness, and empathy". He added that the film will be a ton of elements that the studio has not tried out yet. He then promises that the films coming afterwards will be even more different.

Well, if you needed any more reasons to love LAIKA, there you go.

Knight continued by saying that Kubo and the Two Strings, and LAIKA's next picture, were both shooting at the same time. The studio releases a new film every two years, but Knight wants to ramp it up, unprecedented for a stop-motion studio! With Aardman, it takes a little while. Chicken Run, their debut feature-length film, took 5 years to make. Their second, Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, took 5 years to make. There was a three-year gap between The Pirates and Shaun the Sheep, and Early Man's release will occur when Shaun turns three. It's amazing that LAIKA, a much younger studio (not counting the Vinton studio it grew out of), was able to get all these movies out.

When asked about sequels, Knight said he is "firmly" against them, and that the company has no plans to make sequels any time soon.

"The way we approach our stories is we imagine each film as if it’s the most meaningful experience of our protagonist’s life. If that’s your point of view, your sequel is automatically either going to be (A) a diminishment of that – is it the second most important experience of your protagonist’s life? Or, (B) you’ve got to crank up the volume so much, everything’s sensory overload, and becomes comical how much you have to ratchet it up to justify its existence. I’m not interested in that. I don’t want to do that. I want to tell new and original stories."

That's actually quite a compelling reason not to do sequels, some people prefer to keep things standalone, which is fine and all. I don't ask for sequels to most movies myself, unless they're blockbuster-types that set up sequels. If one is announced, I say "Well, let's see what happens." Once again, good on LAIKA for wanting to pursue non-sequel stories.

On the bummer side, that traditionally-animated film that Knight talked about two years ago? It's not happening anytime soon, but Knight did say...

"I would love to take the same prism that we apply to stop motion—take what we love about this medium, and try to find a way to do something new with it. In the fullness of time, I would absolutely love to do that."

In a way, it's a miracle that we have LAIKA. If they were less fortunate, their films would be given tiny releases by a distributor like GKIDS. (That's no slam on GKIDS, for what they're doing with the tiny films is great. I just wished they were able to get the pictures playing in far more theaters.) It's great that they have a working relationship with Focus Features, and that their features get to enjoy very wide releases stateside instead of doing short-runs on the indie circuit. It makes me wonder if Focus will ever lock into other studios like LAIKA, but their small success hasn't quite convinced other smaller distributors to do the same. Lionsgate routinely fumbles with animation, and Focus themselves dumped Ratchet & Clank earlier this year.

Someone like Aardman hasn't had good luck stateside. DreamWorks did fine with their first two features, but Sony fumbled Arthur Christmas and The Pirates! in America, and Shaun the Sheep Movie landed an American distributor long after it hit theaters in Europe... And that distributor, Lionsgate, dumped it - a film that racked up a 99% on the almighty Rotten Tomatoes! - last year. Hopefully Early Man gets better treatment.

That all being said, LAIKA is in good standing and they are allowed to innovate, and tell captivating stories that come right from the filmmakers without any suits telling them what to do. Only a few of the heavies enjoy that kind of success.

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