Travel consideration provided.
Last month, I flew to Los Angeles to attend a press event for the upcoming film Kubo and the Two Strings, the latest stop-motion animation effort from LAIKA Studios. Following the story of a young boy embarking on an epic quest, Kubo takes its place among past LAIKA treasures with its depth and heart.
During the event, I attended a press conference with the President & CEO of LAIKA, Travis Knight. LAIKA is a locally based studio right here in Oregon, and I had the pleasure of meeting Knight two years ago during a set visit for LAIKA’s last outing, The Boxtrolls. It’s clear that he is passionate about filmmaking, and the time and thought that goes into creating these immersive worlds with stop-motion puppets is nothing short of incredible. During the Kubo Q&A, I asked him to elaborate on the storytelling process.
Beeb Ashcroft: Something that really stood out to me about Kubo is how you handle hard subjects like loss and grief in a really smart and sensitive way. When you’re making a children’s movie and talking about subjects like this, how do find a balance of what’s appropriate to put in it?
Travis Knight: It’s a tricky thing, finding that perfect balance. It can be elusive. You know, I think back to the things that I loved when I was a kid, and the things that stuck with me, the things that took up residence in my head and stuck to my ribs, they were always those stories that had that artful balance of darkness and light, of intensity and warmth, that took us on a journey in a really dynamic way and didn’t sugarcoat things, but talked about things sensitively and, hopefully, in a poetic way that even kids could understand. And you know, we make films for families, so we don’t speak down to our audience. We really want to respect their intelligence. And so we talk about fairly sophisticated issues that meant something to us when we were kids and now as parents with that other generational perspective, looking the other way, we’re grownup kids who now have kids of their own.
And so I think back to the things that I loved and in fact, LAIKA only exists because of my kids. The whole company started because, you know, I’ve been an animator for 20 years and when I had kids it changed everything for me. My entire outlook on the world completely changed. It shifted around, I think like most of us do and you start seeing things in a different way and as someone who’s involved in film and in television and in commercials, I didn’t want to devote my life to making stuff that was damaging to my kids. I didn’t want to make stuff that was part of a big, vapid, sensory assault, which is so much of the stuff that’s geared towards children.
I wanted to make art that was meaningful, that had resonance, that had an uncynical view of the world, that offered a hopeful view of the world. And so that was really the impetus for LAIKA to begin with. It wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my kids, and this film definitely wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my kids because the whole thing explores the relationships that we have, you know, with our parents and then from the other way, with our children. I think it can be a challenge because you certainly don’t want to traumatize children (laughs) and I know based on things that I’ve heard that in the past, we’ve made films that have led to a handful of soaked bunkbed mattresses. (laughter)
So maybe sometimes we push it a little too far. But the dividing line for me is a little strange because when I was five years old I saw The Exorcist, my compass is probably off. (laughter) But you know, you run things by your kids and it’s what we always do. How would they respond? Does this mean something to us? We don’t use focus groups. We don’t run things past, you know, a screening where we get test scores and see, okay, now we’re going to recalibrate in this way. We have to make films that are pure, that we believe in, that mean something to us and that means something to our family, so we’re always reevaluating, we’re showing things to our kids, seeing how they respond and that ends up kind of changing how these films evolve.
In the end, I think it really is up to every parent to decide what’s right for their kid, but we try to make films that are meaningful for the whole family, and I think the best cinematic experience I have as a father is when I go see a movie with my kids, and on the drive home we’re talking about what we just saw and some of the ideas that were raised. And those ones where we go see a movie and it’s essentially a little pop culture confection that just washes over you and it doesn’t really mean anything, those are terrible because none of us is talking about anything. And I love those opportunities to engage with my kids and sometimes if you can tell a story that has issues that we’re exploring, those are opportunities for families to engage with each other and I love that.
Kubo and the Two Strings opens on August 19th, 2016.