It’s no secret August is the month where studios send movies they aren’t sure about to die. Sometimes they are surprised, Guardians of The Galaxy but usually they hold true. Even Suicide Squad is a victim of this, though they were really trying to capitalize on the GotG effect to….mixed success. This time through the end of September only gets worse the longer it goes. Which surprises me each year as Laika Animation releases their films in this period, with Coraline (2009) being the only February release – which is also the highest grossing at $75 million. This is the same studio who gave us Tim Burtons the Corpse Bride (2005), The Boxtrolls (2014), and the criminally under rated ParaNorman in 2012. They more or less break even domestically with each film running in the $60 million range each, and getting close to that domestic with a world wide total usually breaking it.
So why do they keep making movies? How do they keep making movies, and more importantly should you see this one?
For those unfamiliar, allow me a trailer.
The trailers for this looked amazing, but I have a weakness for good animation and stories that feel like myths and legends. Hell, the stories I want to write and lean into have that feeling. So how did they do on it?
The movie starts off in the dog house with the three writer rule, but seems to be an exception. The story is by Marc Haimes (a studio exec on films like Transformers, and Collateral) and Shannon Tindle (a character designer for multiple smaller films, and Coraline) . It was migrated from story to screenplay by Haimes and Chris Butler (Paranorman). So based on this, none of them have any writing experience. The movie isn’t based on *anything* and it doesn’t even have beats that are – “oh they got this from that”. This is a completely original property by people with no published writing work in the industry.
Maybe this should happen more often? The story here is tight. It is original. Very little is wasted, some things are telegraphed but you don’t care because it is earned. These three people need to become consultants for the rest of Hollywood as the movie spends a lot of its time in the “Show don’t tell” school of storytelling. They don’t over explain and don’t treat the audience like idiots. They expect you to either figure it out on your own or otherwise accept the world they’ve created. You can do this. They made it accessible. It’s endearing, and even surprising at times.
Please Hollywood take note of good, even if it is basic, storytelling and how it works. These guys did it right.
To pull the words off the page, you need a man with a vision and that man is Travis Knight, who served as lead animator on Coraline, Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls. This is first time in the directors chair; which isn’t bad for the guy who is CEO of Laika. Between that dual position and the indicators from the writers. This is a project of passion. So to answer the question from earlier of why? They love it. This is what they do and they do it well. The love and passion for this kind of film making is evident as the movie really does have soul.
You have writers, a director, a talented staff of animators, but now you need to give your characters a voice. Charlize Theron voices Monkey, with Art Parkinson (San Andreas and Rickon Stark from Got) as Kubo. Matthew McConaughey is Beetle. They and the rest of the voice cast complete the work. They breath the final bits of life into these characters and make them more. Not surprisingly they deliver.
From a technical standpoint the stop motion is best in the game. There are some interesting flaws in it, but I have a feeling this is an aesthetic choice or purely a stylistic one that they accepted as part of their designs. Just consider for everything you see move, someone had to make it move. Take a picture, move it again and take another picture. It really is impressive and seeing a shot of how they did a fight in the post credits was even more so. It is cut near perfectly with a pacing that is just right. Musically it is powerful thanks to Dario Marianelli’s score.
I really love this movie. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It was everything I hoped it would be and more. It avoided a lot of potential tropes and pitfalls with the grace of a crane. It is everything *not* wrong with Hollywood today. It is everything it should be. I really, desperately wish the other executives would visit Focus Pictures, or Laika Animation in Oregon and ask them how they got it so right.
It absolutely captures the largeness of what a legend in the making should be, but makes it a very small personal story at the same time. It has the grandeur of myth but there’s something so tangible and good in it that it wraps you up comfortably for the two hour run time.
Should you see it?
No. I just wanted to be clear. You should see it. I debated about the kids aspect, but I remember I grew up with The Black Cauldron and I turned out ok. It does have some ‘scarier’ moments for the really young, but nothing too terribly intense. There’s a lot for adults to appreciate in this in craftsmanship alone.
I saw it in 2-D but if you can handle 3-D I think it might be better.
Buying it Blu-Ray?
When can I preorder? Think Laika would send me a copy?
I really want this movie to do good this weekend. I want this studio to succeed and be appreciated. I want this film to be appreciated. Yes, this might be one of the best movies of summer in the all around competition.