With the news that founder and animator/director Travis Knight will be taking the reigns for the next installment of the Transformers franchise, one can’t help but speculate about the future of Laika and whether it will continue to exist.
Kubo and The Two Strings failed to win an Oscar, but it did receive plenty of critical acclaim to which the studio is no stranger. Its films however, while unique, intriguing, and visually stunning are not cash cows like Disney’s and Pixar tend to be. That said, those same films fall under the general definition of successful and the performance of each one allowed production to proceed on the next.
Travis Knight is the leader and a significant reason for Laika’s existence. He’s tread a careful course over the years, and the studio’s gradual progression from production house, through to commercials, shorts, and lastly, features exhibits all the traits of a carefully thought out plan. Except that he’s now going off to direct a CGI film for another studio. Hmmm…
Mark Mayerson offers a bit of speculation as to what is in store for Laika in the foreseeable future. I can’t say I disagree even if I’ve noted the studio’s quandaries in the past. Knights’ involvement however, goes beyond simply directing. Laika’s films have, and can be, directed by others without Knight’s input. He’s played a large role in the studio’s life up until now, but that doesn’t mean he needs to do so going forward.
The studio surely have processes in place to conceive, develop, and produce films. Their brand may not be the most valuable out there, but it is strongly associated with good quality, family-friendly films. On the face of it, Laika can survive without Travis Knight.
What’s on the surface rarely matters in the movie business though. As Kubo finishes out its run, there’s no sign of an announcement of future endeavors The company is private, so no financial details are available, but it is certain that Travis’ father Phil Knight (founder of Nike) owns the firm and does bankroll it to some degree a la Steve Jobs and Pixar. How long this arrangement continues to exist is up for debate although Phil isn’t exactly short on cash at the moment.
So should you be concerned about the future of Laika?
Sure you should. Laike fulfills a role that Pixar used to; that of the plucky independent upstart. Should the studio cease to produce films, that leaves only a number of very large players left in the feature animation space. Truly independent films, while certainly more commonplace now than in the past, remain on the fringes of popular mass entertainment. Laika essentially straddles the boundary between the indie houses and the mainstream.
The point is that Laika offers audiences something different from the usual suspects. Even if its only in a slight sense, the very fact that an animated feature can get a general release and be known outside of artsy circles is truly valuable and benefits the industry as a whole.
Until we hear further details, and until there is a radical change at the studio, I think it’s safe to assume that Laika can survive without Travis Knight’s hand on the tiller.
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