EXCLUSIVE: After winning Oscar nominations for its first two animated features Coraline and ParaNorman — and possibly a third for current release, The Boxtrolls — Oregon-based Laika and Focus Features today announced production is underway on their fourth collaboration, Kubo And The Two Strings. The new film is described as a “sweeping, swashbuckling adventure set in a mythical ancient Japan” and will be filmed in the company’s signature 3D stop-motion and CG hybrid technique.
Kubo is the first of a new three-picture deal for Laika and Focus announced in October. Knight and Focus CEO Peter Schlessel made today’s announcement.
Laika’s president and CEO Travis Knight is making his directorial debut on the film, from an original screenplay by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler (ParaNorman). Knight is producing with Arianne Sutner and the starry voice cast includes Matthew McConaughey, Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes and Brenda Vaccaro as well as Game Of Thrones star Art Parkinson, who is providing the voice of Kubo. The film is set for domestic release on August 19th, 2016. Focus Features will handle domestic, while Universal Pictures International will take on the rest of the world.
The script is taken from Japanese folktales and mythology and centers on young Kubo, who lives a quiet, normal life in a small shoreside village until a spirit from the past turns his life upside down by re-igniting an age-old vendetta. This causes all sorts of havoc as gods and monsters chase Kubo who, in order to survive, must locate a magical suit of armor once worn by his late father, a legendary Samurai warrior.
This morning, Knight told me he thinks Kubo could be Laika’s biggest achievement yet. It began development when the company was working on their 2012 hit ParaNorman and actually started production over the summer, with production expected until early 2016. Focus and UI are so high on it they decided to plant their flag on the August 2016 date which Knight says looks like a very good spot or the film, especially with the level of competition out there.
Knight fell in love with the story and decided to jump head-first into the directing waters with this one. “It’s been something I have been itching to do for some time and it’s just been waiting until the right project came along,” he said. “We’re developing any number of projects at any given time but this project in particular is just very special. It’s the most powerful and poetic script that we have ever created, and that in large measure — in the burgeoning reputation of our ragtag ramshackle studio — is why we were able to attract the kind of talent that we were to the project. It was all those things aligning with this really beautiful, special story and this incredible cast of world class actors that we attracted. It was something that I had a very personal stake in and wanted to see all the way to the finish.”
This film also marks the continuation and reaffirmation of Laika’s distribution partnership with Focus, which is expanding its horizons under new CEO Schlessel. But those horizons clearly include Laika, which went into business with the company nearly 10 years ago, when it was led by James Schamus, with Coraline. Knight is pleased with the collaboration. “We worked with the new group, led by Peter Schlessel and his team, on The Boxtrolls, and we have just had an incredible relationship with the previous group at Focus and the new one as well,” he said. “It just seems that we all understand what we are trying to do. They have incredible respect for individual voices and distinctive filmmakers, and they understand the support and the nurturing that those kinds of films need. It’s been a great partnership and we look forward to it continuing for years to come.”
As for the Laika brand, Knight says he responds to the kinds of films that were around when he grew up and which are in rare supply today — but are the kind he wants to make. “We are not interested in repeating ourselves or in doing sequels or remakes or prequels,” he said. “We want to tell unique, original stories every time out. This particular story was inspired by Japanese folktales and mythology, and we wanted to take all that stuff that came out of that culture and fuse it with a western cinematic tradition. And find a style with scope and grandeur, which is incredibly difficult to do when you are dealing with stuff that is miniature. It is really trying to bring that cinematic style to a medium you typically don’t see that kind of thing in. We just build on the innovations with every film we do.
“On Boxtrolls we were able to do things we couldn’t have even imagined on Coraline, and with Kubo we are just taking it that much further,” he added. “It’s kind of like it’s as if Stand By Me was set in a Temple Of Doom through the prism of Kurosawa on a bender of bath salts.”
Laika is on quite another awards roll this year with Boxtrolls, which has been nominated for Golden Globe and Critics Choice Movie Awards as Best Animated Feature and is leading the Annie Awards with a whopping 13 nominations. Knight and Laika are obviously not resting on their laurels. Check out the video below to see the time lapse creation of Laika’s The Boxtrolls with Travis Knight.