You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Is It Finally Time to Give Laika an Oscar?

This year’s animated feature Oscar race is considered a foregone conclusion for many. Disney’s “Zootopia,” a March 2016 release that speaks to the modern climate with socio-political, zeitgeisty elements — indeed, one of the year’s best films, full stop — is far and away the frontrunner. And with over $1 billion in global box office receipts, it’s hard not to call it the biggest pop-cultural phenomenon in the category as well.

But the Academy can’t seem to shake this instinct to spring for the hottest ticket when it comes to animated features. Due respect to “Zootopia’s” considerable merits, but brand recognition and ubiquity play a heavy hand when films like this, “Big Hero 6” and “Brave,” to name a few recent examples, walk away with the gold.

Meanwhile, the best of the nominees might arguably be Laika’s “Kubo and the Two Strings,” a meticulously crafted fable straight from the heart of director Travis Knight, founder of the Portland-based animation company. With a $60 million budget — not even half of “Zootopia’s” $150 million treasure chest — Knight and his team produced a dazzling stop-motion wonder that towers over Laika’s previous achievements.

Moreover, “Kubo” cracked the Academy’s below-the-line categories with a surprise visual effects nomination. Outside of aural fields like sound and score, it was the first time an animated film was recognized in these areas since “The Nightmare Before Christmas” 23 years ago. Costume designer Deborah Cook even received a nomination from the costume designers guild in the fantasy category, a first for animated features and hopefully a sign that the hand-made efforts of artisans on these films might have a shot at Academy recognition in the future.

Beyond all of that, isn’t it simply time to recognize Laika? Each of the company’s movies — “Coraline,” “ParaNorman,” “The Boxtrolls” and now “Kubo” — has made it to the dance. But so far, no wins to show for it. And it’s not like this is something on the fringe with a modest cheerleading squad; “Kubo” has won 18 critics awards by my count, to “Zootopia’s” 19. Plus, though they’re neck-and-neck when it comes to the thumbs-up/thumbs-down metric of Rotten Tomatoes (“Zootopia’s” 98% to “Kubo’s” 97%), “Kubo” is the more critically acclaimed film when you drill down further (an 84 rating on Metacritic to “Zootopia’s” 78 — though to be fair, “The Red Turtle” and “My Life as a Zucchini” are even higher at 88 and 85, respectively).

I point all of that out only to show that what we’re really dealing with here is the reach of the Disney marketing machine versus the reach of a smaller distributor like Focus Features. Competing with that brand will be daunting on a number of levels going forward, not just in the animated space. But Academy members aren’t voting on brands. They’re voting on work. And the work from Laika artists simply deserves some serious consideration this time around.

That’s not too much to ask, is it?

More Film

  • HKIFFS and Heaven Pictures

    Hong Kong Festival, China's Heaven Pictures Launch 'Back to Basics' Film Project Support

    The Hong Kong International Film Festival Society (HKIFFS) and China’s Heaven Pictures announced that they will award six Asian filmmakers RMB1 million ($145,000) in a joint project to demonstrate how high-quality films can still be made inexpensively. The six films that emerge from the new initiative, titled “Back to Basics (B2B): A Love Supreme,” will [...]

  • Nuri Bilge Ceylan in conversation at

    Shanghai: How Nuri Bilge Ceylan Sees the World so Differently

    At a masterclass on Thursday, Turkish film director Nuri Bilge Ceylan gave the initial impression of being an austere and unwilling participant. Wearing heavy glasses, keeping his coat on, and responding to questions rather than offering a class, his manner suggested that he was difficult. In China as the head of the Shanghai International Film [...]

  • SpiderMan Far From Home

    Hollywood Takes on Italy's Vacation-Heavy Summer Season With Blockbusters

    With upcoming movies such as “Toy Story 4,” “Men in Black: International” and “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” Hollywood studios are finally taking the plunge this year and slotting their blockbusters in Italian cinemas during the summer, a time when residents traditionally hit the beach en masse. For decades, the studios withheld their [...]

  • Easy Money

    Netflix Orders 'Snabba Cash' Series Based on Hit Movie Franchise from SF Studios

    Netflix has ordered a six-part original series based on the hit Swedish crime franchise “Snabba Cash” from SF Studios. Based on Jens Lapidus’s bestselling novels, the series is set in Stockholm’s gritty criminal underground ten years after the events depicted in the “Snabba Cash” (“Easy Money,” pictured) movie trilogy. The society has become even more [...]

  • The Kings Man

    Film News Roundup: Disney Sets 'The King's Man' Spy Comedy for February

    In today’s film news roundup, “The King’s Man” and “A Kid From Coney Island” get release dates, and “Barry” star Anthony Carrigan joins “Bill & Ted Face the Music.” RELEASE DATE Disney has set its Fox spy comedy prequel “The King’s Man” for release on Feb. 14, 2020. Disney made the announcement Wednesday at its [...]

  • Shyrakshy: Guardian of the Light

    Shanghai Film Review: 'Shyrakshy: Guardian of the Light'

    The bombastic English title might sound like it describes some comic book sci-fi epic, but in “Shyrakshy: Guardian of the Light” our hero does not wear a cape but a weathered cap, and the light he guards is not an interstellar death ray but the flickering beam of a battered old movie projector. Prominent Kazakh [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content