Kubo’s Box Office Performance Hides Bigger Troubles – Animation Scoop

Kubo’s Box Office Performance Hides Bigger Troubles

Coming from a studio with an established track record in making uniquely crafted stop-motion films, and with a story this is much more interesting than most of the other summer fare, Kubo and the Two Strings ought to be a home run of a film. Its failure to become a smash hit however hides bigger troubles with audiences in general.

Laika’s previous films were always popular additions to the annual box office in a sea of CGI films and sequels. Kubo is their most ambitious to date in both a technical and storywise sense and despite the associated risk, critics and audiences alike who saw it, tend to agree that it’s one of the year’s best.

So why have audiences in general failed to show up?


There is nothing inherently wrong with Laika’s release strategy despite a noticeable lack of merchandise or marketing tie-ins (Burger King Kid’s Meal toys excepted). The film itself is basically sound, and it’s target audience is barely back in school yet. Rather, Kubo’s uniqueness may be its undoing. Aside from being stop-motion in composition and having a more mystical style of storytelling, the film’s attempts to stand out may not be what audiences are actually looking for.

We hear about how audiences want something new and unique all the time, but the reality is that they almost never want something truly new and truly unique. Such a film is a bridge too far. They want something that’s either slightly new, or evolutionary unique. Toy Story’s greatness originally stemmed from its technological advancements, but its longevity is the result of its style of storytelling. However, while such storytelling was new to animation, it had been around in live-action for decades. The actual structure enabled audiences to roll with it because it was familiar to them.

In a year awash with sequels in just about every genre of film, it is immensely frustrating that audiences can simultaneously demand more original content while continuing to reward sequels with their hard-earned money. The trend is likely to continue as studios seek to minimize their risk as much as possible. The notion that audiences become programmed to only consider tentpoles and sequels is not as bizarre as you might suppose.

Without mammoth advertising budgets, synergistic tie-ins, related franchises and universes, independent animated films in particular are susceptible to being crowded out of the marketplace. Modern media is a shout-fest and whoever shouts the loudest gets the attention. The old adage that great art will always succeed is not universally true. Art is being forced to compete on a more uneven playing field than it already was. Kubo’s audiences didn’t show up because they either didn’t know about it, or, because they already did. The frightening aspect to all of this is that Laika’s niche appeal and smaller budgets may no longer be enough to sustain its films. Kubo’s performance illustrates that word of mouth cannot be relied upon to prop a film up.

Despite the dramatic fall in production costs, and the availability or alternative distribution platforms like Netflix, it is at the box office where the vast majority of large-budget films recoup their costs. The failure of Kubo to do so with a unique visual style and tale ought to be a warning for anyone who believes that audiences are willing to consider new ideas.

Charles Kenny

Charles Kenny

Being tall, Irish and a civil engineer by trade, Charles stands out in the animation crowd, hence his position as the Animation Anomaly.
Charles Kenny
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