Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: I’m a huge fan of LAIKA Studios, an outspoken proponent for their highly original and entertaining films, and continue to be impressed with their technical achievements and hands-on craftsmanship year after year. (I’m also not an animator, a LAIKA insider, nor a businessman, so take my upcoming suggestions with that in mind.) There is much to praise the studio for in terms of artistic integrity, painstaking attention to detail, and their fearless approach to filmmaking. But thanks to declining box office performances and a refusal (or inability) to license their properties to merchandising, sequels, and spin-offs, I worry that LAIKA’s indie outlook may be an unsustainable one.
Before any alarm bells start going off, LAIKA probably isn’t in any financial trouble at the moment; they have deep pockets. They have no plans to close up shop any time soon. But while the studio’s indie approach to filmmaking is what makes it so charming and unique, it’s also what hamstrings their potential. With only four feature films from the studio over the last seven years, it’s clear that LAIKA opts to focus their time, money, and effort (not to mention blood, sweat, and tears) on projects they deem worthy. But in order to keep the studio’s stable of highly talented and specialized craftspeople employed and to keep the films coming for decades rather than simply years, LAIKA should strongly consider a licensing strategy to fill their coffers.
This isn’t just a plea for a cash grab; I’d hate to see LAIKA toilet seats as much as the next fan. But it’s a cold hard fact that a strong financial foundation allows more creative freedom. A licensing strategy could bring more than just toys, games, and tchotchkes to the masses, it could bring new, original, and continuing stories from the creative and singular minds of LAIKA. So while I wouldn’t be surprised to find that CEO Travis Knight prioritizes artistic expression over financial success, I would be heartbroken to see LAIKA fold over a refusal to license out their richly imaginative original properties. Let’s take a look at the state of things as we know it and then discuss ways to potentially bring more LAIKA to more people.