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The Future Of LAIKA

This Spring finally saw the eagerly anticipated return of LAIKA Studios to cinemas with the release of Missing Link.  Their fifth feature was only announced last year and arrived nearly three years after Kubo And The Two Strings.

Kubo was rapturously received by many animation fans and film lovers and was their best reviewed film to boot. This sadly did not translate into box office returns so when no announcement was made about what their next film would be for quite some time, many were concerned for the Portland studio's future. Not to mention the fact that Kubo director/studio head Travis Knight seemed to be moving into live-action direction.

Missing Link went on to do even worse, scoring the Studio's weakest opening weekend so far- $5 million to Kubo's $12 million. It's still currently on release so it's possible it could turn it around but the movie is currently on course to be LAIKA's worst-performing film so far.  It's been outgrossed by the not particularly successful Wonderpark and the much more niche Dragon Ball Super Broly.

What caused the decline? Are wide audiences just not into stop-motion? It's possible but it has to be pointed out that LAIKA's films are so slick that many general movie-goers are hard pressed to know they aren't CGI. It seems that while the animation community and film enthusiasts recognise the LAIKA name as a trusted brand that just hasn't seemed to catch on in the wider population.

We all know that Box-Office is not necessarily an arbiter of quality but at the end of the day, it's still called show-business and studios need to make money to survive. Should we be worried?

Maybe. It's certainly alarming that the Studio's output shows a downward trend. According to Box Office Mojo Coraline (their first feature) is their top-earning film and each subsequent film has made steadily less and less money in the North American market. It's only a little different worldwide, where Boxtrolls fared a little better than ParaNorman internationally.

The company is owned by billionaire Nike co-founder Phil Knight (father of Travis), which might offer some protection at least. LAIKA films are relatively modestly budgeted with their typical $60 million requiring a much smaller return to turn a profit than your average Disney or DreamWorks fare. Even so, Missing Link's $16 million to date is a pretty big disappointment.

So, what can be done?

The last two films really pushed into new territory for the studio, with Missing Link in particular being a long way from the darker goth-tinged fare that made their name. A Coraline sequel is unlikely, but something tonally similar might go down well.  Perhaps even another Neil Gaiman adaptation?

Since spinning their commercial arm off as an independent company, LAIKA's efforts have been entirely centred on the production of features. Their closest rival in the stop-motion world, UK-based Aardman animation produces their features as just part of what they do. They also produce TV series, specials, shorts, commercial, stop-motion, hand-drawn, CGI and interactive content. Could diversification help LAIKA? A CG feature was in development at the studio when Coraline was in production and there have even been whisperings that they wanted to produce a 2D feature.

Alternatively, maybe it's not the content that needs to change but the means of distribution. A deal with Netflix might come at the cost of a wide cinema release but it could make up for it in sheer reach. There's no doubt that The Little Prince was much wider watched than it would have been otherwise. A deal with Amazon (who also follow a more traditional cinema release window) or new streaming upstarts Apple could also work. Box Office behemoths they may not be, but LAIKA are a prestigious brand that would be a boon for any streaming service.

Whatever it takes almost every animation fan surely hopes that the studio can turn their luck around. One thing's for sure, the animation landscape would be a much duller place without them.