A list of the Laika movies ranked, from Corpse Bride in 2005 to Missing Link in 2019.
I’ve returned to a couple of the Laika movies these last few weeks, even writing about Coraline and possibly another one on the horizon, and I tried to pull myself into ranking them. They’re all so good, mainly because I love the craft that goes into each of them. The animators always go above and beyond to create these massive worlds with very distinct styles – from the gothic, childlike town of Blithe Hollow in ParaNorman, to the magical villages in Kubo and the Two Strings.
I would argue that Laike Entertainment may be the gold standard for animated studios right now, but there’s just not enough consistent output for them to counter the likes of Sony or even Pixar, despite a few middling recent releases. I think Laika’s batting average is the highest, they just don’t play in enough games to qualify.
And so this might be an odd time to release a Laika movie rankings list, but it’s August and we’ve hit a small lull in the annual movie calendar. Shout! Factory released new 4k discs for most of these movies a while back, and before this month, they were just collecting dust on my shelves at home. Now I’ve revisited a few and have my mind fresh about all of them.
Laika movies prove that 3D animation isn’t the only way to capture the imagination of an audience. Almost all of their movies center around children, using the wondering minds of their protagonists to build out supernatural stories of fulfilling your own destiny and believing in your own strengths. As corny as those themes sound in paper, they always feel earned through the cooky, rich narratives that reinvigorate them.
The last Laika movie released was in 2019 with Missing Link, so we’re due for a new one sometime soon. The pandemic surely must’ve pushed back some of their plans, but I anticipate a new release in the upcoming couple years. Overall, they’ve released six movies spanning 14 years – remarkable considering the level of craft that goes into sculpting and shooting these films.
But I digress. This is where I’m thinking I’d rank the Laika movies:
6. Corpse Bride (2005)
An object of fascination, Corpse Bride marks the odd intersection between pre-Laika stop-motion and the animated studio that we know it as today. Directed by Tim Burton and Mike Johnson, and produced by Warner Bros. alongside Laika, it’s hard not to feel like this movie is the black sheep of the studio’s catalogue.
The movie follows Victor, a young man whisked away to the underworld and wed to a mysterious corpse bride, while his real bride Victoria waits alone in the land of the living. It’s certainly not a bad film, but Corpse Bride is far from the studio working at their apex.
5. The Boxtrolls (2014)
Also an odd movie all things considered, but The Boxtrolls at least feels like a product of Laika Entertainment. It contains many of the off-kilter character designs and unpleasant world structures, but the style isn’t as distinct and tightly wound as the movies later down in the list.
It also feels like a tweener – unlike the spooky, gothic tones of Coraline and ParaNorman, but also not as whimsical and inviting as Kubo and the Two Strings and Missing Link. It’s just middling in between the two. The movie follows an orphaned boy raised by underground creatures called Boxtrolls. He inevitably comes up from the sewers and out of his box to save his family and the town from an evil exterminator.
While still a neat relic of what Laika Entertainment creatives find interesting, I can’t say I find The Boxtrolls just as unique.
4. Missing Link (2019)
Missing Link is really neat, going full adventure and escaping the horror-like images that consistently peak up through Laika movies. It’s a goofy Bigfoot reimagining and commits to the bit in an incredible way. This is their latest film, so you can feel the tightening around the edges as the studio gets more and more experience under their belt.
It doesn’t have the same “lightning in a bottle” feel that some of Laika’s best movies do, but Missing Link is still a refreshingly enjoyable animated feature. The movie follows a remarkable explorer as he attempts to uncover the truth behind a mysterious beast known as the missing link.
3. ParaNorman (2012)
With some of the best character design and voice acting in Laika’s entire filmography, ParaNorman comes in at number three on this list. You could maybe flip-flop this and Missing Link, but I prefer the stranger narrative ideas in this film. The themes feel more relatable as the movie follows a young kid who’s able to speak to the dead, unbeknownst to his peers. He’s tasked with stopping the curse set by a witch years ago in their town of Blithe Hollow.
Honestly, Laika could make twenty movies like ParaNorman and I would watch all of them. They animation stands out here, bouncing between states of childlike horror and whimsical adventure. They work quite well in tandem, leading to one of Laika’s best overall products.
2. Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
For many studios, Kubo and the Two Strings would be their best movie. Not for Laika, a studio with such a resume that this masterful artistry comes in second. It’s adventurous in a way few animated movies are, confidently building a narrative that’s both bold and easy to understand.
The movie follows Kubo after he accidentally summons an evil spirit seeking vengeance on due to his family’s ancestry. The movie combines a character with the powers of supernatural origami with two sidekicks that are mesmerizing in visual style and voice work. It’s an astounding animated feature, one that I wouldn’t argue if you placed it in the gold spot.
1. Coraline (2009)
But not here! It’s Coraline, and it’ll probably always be Coraline. I watched this movie repeatedly when it came out in 2009, because it was equally inviting and frightening. I was the perfect age for this movie when it was released, possibly seeing it slightly too young where it left quite the impact. The film is spooky when you’re young, but you’re able to understand the craft that goes into it and the idiosyncratic story that it tells. Coraline review
The movie follows the title character as she finds a hidden door that leads her to an alternate reality – one where everything she wants is at her fingertips at any time. This (obviously) isn’t all as it seems and the showdown is set between Coraline and the evil entity in charge of this world.
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