Since 2009, LAIKA has been one of my favorite animation studios, and for good reason. The quality practically speaks for itself—nearly every entry in their impressive filmography has been nominated for prestigious awards, including Golden Globes and Academy Awards. Through the gorgeous use of stop motion animation, LAIKA has proved that the medium is not just for niche titles. Their output may be considerably less quantitative than Pixar, but the scope of imagination, attention to detail, and stunning visuals are every bit on the same playing field. Like any genre, animation is vital to the lifeblood of film. Through fascinating horror-tinged family comedies Coraline and ParaNorman, LAIKA delivers a one-two punch of excellence that will be hard to top.
First up, we have 2009’s Coraline. The brand-new SteelBook cover art has been commissioned by Cancun-based illustrator Cesar Moreno, and is visually gorgeous. Set in the Pink Palace apartments, we follow Coraline as she moves into her new home and quickly discovers that a 150-year-old house hides many secrets. After being gifted a doll that looks identical to her, Coraline comes upon a mysterious door. Initially, this door opens only to reveal a brick wall, but at night expands into a mesmerizing tunnel that transports Coraline to another world. A shadow of our own, The Other Mother reigns supreme, and everyone here seems to have button eyes instead of real ones. Soon, Coraline must solve the mysteries of the house and defeat The Other Mother with the help of ghost-children and a sassy talking cat that practically steals the show.
I remember reading the book by Neil Gaiman, and then being blown away when I saw Coraline in 3D in theaters. There was truly nothing out there like it at the time, and all these years later, it still feels entirely unique for good reason. Between gloomy Alice in Wonderland vibes, the film’s deeply dark moments are enough to send chills down one’s spine. Well before The Other Mother elongates herself into a terrifying spider-creature or detaches her hand like a Freddy Krueger glove, director Henry Sellick establishes a foreboding atmosphere dripping with dread. Coraline looks more incredible than it ever has before, in sparkling 4K that allows for every crisp, vibrant moment of the action-packed finale to hit that much harder.
Next, there is ParaNorman! This release is significant because not only is it celebrating this instantly-iconic movie, but it also helps to ring in the film’s ten year anniversary. Released back in 2012, ParaNorman grew critical acclaim. Coraline may be the masterpiece, but don’t overlook ParaNorman. Austin artist Kevin Tong was responsible for the brand-new SteelBook artwork. The film is a loving ode to the horror genre, a twisty bizarre and strange movie filled with gorgeously animated sequences and stunning shots. It opens with a grainy film throwback of zombie mayhem screaming for “brains,” and from there only gets weirder.
Norman is the only one who can see the ghosts around him, including his grandma who is more than happy to accompany him on the couch as he watches old zombie flicks. An outsider, Norman is an easy sell for those who feel like they exist on the fringes of society. In Blithe Hollow, legend tells of a witch’s curse, and Norman could be the only one capable of stopping it. ParaNorman has a surprisingly touching emotional core, and a great ensemble of characters. I will never forget the moment in which the film’s hot brother exclaims “you’re gonna love my boyfriend” after Norman’s sister has spent the whole movie pining over him. It is a hilarious line delivered completely organically, and was one of the first notices of LGBT+ representation in mainstream animation that I had noticed.
In 4K, there is eye-popping detail here in every follicle of hair and nasty piece of decaying zombie flesh. Both movies are also buoyed by excellent Dolby Atmos spatial audio, only adding to an already immersive feel. Whether experiencing them for the first time or reliving every magic moment, these releases are definitive and concise—they contain the full special features from the Blu-rays, plus the obviously impressive 4K restorations of both titles. I never wanted to leave either of these worlds. Whatever LAIKA makes next, I am of course going to be first in line. These two movies are an astounding accomplishment that should not go uncelebrated.
Coraline and ParaNorman are both available now in 4K special editions and SteelBook, stuffed with special features and a peek behind the curtain into LAIKA’s laborious, textured filmmaking process.