Between snagging some of the biggest names in the acting business and joining forces with a powerful distributor, we’re ready for Laika to dominate.
Fans of animation have come to expect great things from Laika Entertainment. The animation studio has a 100% success rate, delivering the stellar stop-motion films Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and Kubo and the Two Strings, which were regulars at the Annie Awards and have all been up for Oscars.
The Hollywood Reporter has announced that an untitled fifth movie is now added to Laika’s growing slate of animated greats, and what a cast it has assembled already! Film Five — as the movie is being called for now — will star the voices of Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana, and Zach Galifianakis. ParaNorman director and Kubo and the Two Strings writer Chris Butler is returning to helm the project, which will be put out by Annapurna Pictures in the US.
The actors brought on don’t need much of an introduction; that’s Wolverine, Gamora, and the most offbeat guy in The Hangover trilogy all in one movie, for crying out loud. Jackman, Saldana, and Galifianakis all have the chops to lead films on their own or at least play memorable characters in a supporting capacity, and they have even had experience doing voice work in the past. As far as picking their next animated feature goes, they couldn’t have done better than to have gone with Laika anyway. The kind of intelligent, mature content that the studio puts out for people of all ages speaks for itself.
Film Five is already something to look forward to when considering Laika’s concerted efforts to make bigger and better original spectacles with each new effort. According to the official press release, the feature will be a comedy-adventure romp set across the globe. There apparently won’t be a child protagonist leading the troupe the time; that is, if a 2016 Cartoon Brew interview with Laika president and CEO Travis Knight is anything to go by. When asked what a post-Kubo Laika film would entail, Knight answered:
“Adulthood. [‘Kubo and the Two Strings’] is a goodbye in a number of different ways. The themes that it deals with – loss and grief. But it also deals with healing, compassion, forgiveness and empathy. And so, it is, effectively, the end of this first cycle of films that we’ve done at the studio. The things we’ve got coming are completely different. Our next film does not feature a child protagonist. I don’t even know that there are any children in it at all. I wouldn’t say it’s adult-oriented. But it’s a different kind of a film for us. It’s still intended for families, but it’s a different kind of a story.”
For now, this aligns with the cast that Laika has brought together, even if the synopsis remains vague. Getting to see such a promising studio move into the next phase of its life cycle is bound to be a treat regardless, seeing as their existing films tend to have a darker edge about them as it is. Laika movies are always scratching the surface of maturity amidst their coming-of-age narratives, so what more can audiences expect when they explore the stories of adult protagonists?
Although Laika projects circle basic themes that have been explored in other animated films before — such as love and self-acceptance — these movies are unafraid to push the typical limits of universality and emotional resonance in family-friendly cinema and want to keep things original, making them perfect competitors to studios like Pixar, DreamWorks, and Illumination. Laika’s films deal with death and the afterlife and their characters’ complex relationships with loss. They’ve included queer characters in their movies, notably in ParaNorman — which sports the first openly gay character in a mainstream animated film — and The Boxtrolls. Kubo and the Two Strings dives into elements of Japanese culture and manages to create a magical historical epic that’s both a technical and narrative feat; the lushest film in Laika’s arsenal by far. The studio’s approach to family movies succeeds because it trusts in a diverse demographic, keeps stories fresh, normalizes representations of marginalized groups, and never makes a big deal about inclusivity.
Film Five is a particularly exciting venture on the distribution front too. Internationally, Stuart Ford’s AGC Studios will introduce Film Five to buyers at Cannes next month as its first project. But the Annapurna deal is especially noteworthy. In teaming up with such a thoroughly ambitious company to secure domestic distribution for this and future projects, Laika ensures a business partnership that aligns with its brand of progressive cinema. It would also definitely boost the studio’s profile even more and hopefully positively impact Laika’s box office returns in the future. For example, critics loved Kubo, but that love was not reflected in the numbers in the slightest. If Annapurna — along with Film Five‘s star-studded cast — can do something to change that, it would be wonderful news for the studio.
They still kind of feel like the new kid on the block. However, Laika is ready to grow up with Film Five in more ways than one, and we’re keeping our eyes peeled for more developments.