(To celebrate the release of Missing Link, we’re revisiting the stop-motion animated films of Laika this week and discussing why they’re so special. Today: ParaNorman is the kind of kid-friendly horror movie that could transform a youngster into a genre fan for life.)
My transformation into the horror-lovin’ goblin y’all know around these parts was not a graceful one. Early childhood memories are those of anxious fear. Hiding from Child’s Play commercials, avoiding Party City depots during Halloween, and so on. It wasn’t until my later high school years where “so bad it’s good” trash masterpieces sparked my spooky-but-outrageous interests. College is where I dove headfirst into the meanest, most vile terrifiers the genre has to offer, then started gradually working backward. Again, not very methodical. In a different life, I would – and should – have started with a balanced introductory horror tale for the whole family such as Laika’s ParaNorman: satire, homage, and chilling goosebumps bedtime story all rolled into one stop-motion-magnificent package.
It’s no surprise that Laika cuts through festering flesh to expose the immeasurable deepness of our human experience. By embracing horror, creators Chris Butler and Sam Fell provide commentary on death, grief, and acceptance with unflinching steadiness. Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) can see bodyless souls trapped on Earth until their unfinished business is completed, whether that be protection from a townwide witch’s curse or grandmother’s vow as a guardian angel. ParaNorman wastes no time becoming an allegory for providing comfort in death since those long buried still live on in our remembrance or actions, never mincing words nor message.
So how does Laika achieve this understanding without scaring children into existential confusion? Through a genre veteran’s appreciative lens, no less? By embracing what horror fans have known all along – there is no greater, more comforting feeling than confronting our fears face to cackling face.
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(To celebrate the release of Missing Link, we’re revisiting the stop-motion animated films of Laika this week and discussing why they’re so special. Today: The Boxtrolls showcases the kind of film, and filmmaking, that only Laika could make.)
Have you ever heard the nursery rhyme that sounded innocent at first? But then you grew up and you realized the lyrics had ghastly implications? Think of Ring a Ring o’ Rosie and its lyrical ties to the Black Plague. Think of Rock-a-bye Baby, where a baby falls from the branches. Think of the stop-motion movie The Boxtrolls, except it wears its ghastliness front-and-center, even as it is geared toward young minds. If Roald Dahl and Charles Dickens adopted a gremlin baby, they’d raise it to be this film.
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(To celebrate the release of Missing Link, we’re revisiting the stop-motion animated films of Laika this week and discussing why they’re so special. Today: Coraline is an adventure movie where adulthood is the villain.)
At first glance, Coraline seems ripe for the haunting of children’s dreams. Henry Selick’s 2009 stop-motion feature adaptation of the Neil Gaiman storybook of the same name is creepy, ghastly, and a little disturbing, with elements that could put an adult-targeted horror film to shame.
But the scariest part about Coraline isn’t the horrifying implications of the button eyes or the spindly child-eating spider-woman. It’s the idea that we’re all doomed to become boring, uninteresting adults.
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(To celebrate the release of Missing Link, we’re revisiting the stop-motion animated films of Laika this week and discussing why they’re so special. Today: Kubo and the Two Strings is a moving parable of love and remembrance.)
Memory is a fragile, fickle, formative thing. It’s manipulable and elastic, but it’s also the base of our identities, the metric by which we measure our personal growth and change, the mechanism by which we form opinions and make judgments about the world. This is why we tell ourselves stories, to give our memories a continuity of purpose and meaning, and if there’s one thing that stop-motion animation studio LAIKA understands about those self-told stories, it’s that they are our primary connection to those who came before us.
Kubo and the Two Strings is a story about holding on to family through our memories, and how love is born from memories, even when we don’t have conscious access to them or simply have stories to go by.
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(To celebrate the release of Missing Link, we’re revisiting the stop-motion animated films of Laika this week and discussing why they’re so special. First up: how The Boxtrolls highlights the art of voice acting.)
Depending on who you listen to, working as a voice actor in animated projects is either very easy or very hard. On its face, to anyone who hasn’t gone into a recording booth, it might seem like the easiest job in the world. You get paid to read lines of dialogue (without having to memorize them), and you don’t even have to get dressed up in a costume. Want to wear sweatpants and a baggy T-shirt? Why not? People will only hear your work, not see it.
Voice work might seem easy, and because of that common misconception, it’s equally easy to take for granted a great voice performance. One such underrated performance comes from a titan of modern acting: Sir Ben Kingsley in Laika’s The Boxtrolls.
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