By Gill Pringle

George Harrison’s ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ [performed by Regina Spektor in the film’s closing credits] seems integral to the film. Was that difficult to get? “That song is so thematically tied into this movie. I’ve loved The Beatles my entire life. My mum was sixteen when The Beatles came to America, so in a lot of ways, The Beatles were a soundtrack to my childhood. When George Harrison wrote that song, he was reading the Chinese book of changes, The I Ching. And part of that idea was that everything was interconnected. There were no coincidences, and everything has a connection to everything else. To test that theory, he was in his mum’s house, and he opened the book and decided to write a song about the first thing that he saw. That phrase was ‘gently weeps’, so the whole song was that philosophy put into music. So again, it’s a fusion of east to west, and of those philosophical things at play there. What’s more, it’s an incredibly beautiful song, and the film is basically, from a narrative point of view, a love letter from a boy to his mother, and we see this from the other way around, from mother to son.”

What was the process of getting the song? “It was actually shockingly simple. My dream was that we could use that song as the musical theme of the movie, knowing all those complications, and knowing that everybody would want to use a piece of Beatles music, and knowing how difficult it is to get those licenses. So we approached Olivia Harrison and just asked her if we could use her husband’s song and she said okay. It was a little more complex than that; we had to show her what the movie was gonna be and the script and the artwork, why we loved the song, and why we thought it was appropriate for the movie. She agreed, and she gracefully let us use the song. And it’s another blessing for us on this movie that we are able to use this perfect, beautiful, timeless piece of music that evokes so much feeling and emotion. It’s the perfect musical counterpoint to our movie. I’m very thankful. It was a multi-pronged effort, and thankfully it ended well.”

Travis Knight at work on The Boxtrolls
Travis Knight at work on The Boxtrolls

Laika is known for doing stop motion animation, which is a very old form of art. You combine it with technology, but how do you know the boundary? That you don’t go too far with technology? “Right from the very start, the stuff that we have done has been this fusion of old and new. We have a reverence for tradition and history, while at the same time, we have a passion for innovation. So combining art and craft and technology is a weird combination of things. It’s a strange blend, and sometimes it’s an uneasy blend. We have people that do nothing but make things with their hands. The craftsmanship part of it goes back a hundred years to when [filmmaker] Georges Méliès was sending rockets to the moon. Essentially, the techniques are the same, but we also blend that with cutting edge technology so we have people working with their hands, but right next to them we have these giant throbbing brains who are inventing technologies. They’re coming up with things that haven’t been imagined yet. So, it does create a bit of tension, but I also think those things are great because it also creates fertile ground for creativity, and for innovation. It’s what we’ve been able to build on, because we keep the band together…we don’t disband once things are done. All that innovation can be applied to the next film, which means that we can tell bigger and more expansive stories. In the end, we’re simple storytellers. We want to tell the best story that we possibly can, and the medium is immaterial on some level. The audience doesn’t care how something was done. They just want a story that engages them, and that’s what we try to do. Of course, that’s simplifying it. You can’t extricate the process of creating art from the art itself.”

A scene from Kubo And The Two Strings
A scene from Kubo And The Two Strings

Do you feel that your movies all share the same DNA? “Oftentimes with studios or production houses, you can see that the designs are similar from film to film to film. They’re using similar palettes, similar shape language, and similar design aesthetics. They cover very similar thematic ground from film to film to film. So you can definitely see a through-line, and that studios have a point of view, and a personality. We do too. We absolutely do. We have a point of view, and a personality. But I want our films to be very different to each other. I want us to cover different types of ground. I want us to tell new and original stories every single time. Aesthetically, I don’t want to repeat ourselves. If you put Kubo And The Two Strings right next to Coraline, they don’t look like they’re in the same universe. Aesthetically, they’re quite different. My hope is that in the fullness of time, we can look back on the last 20 years and see a collection of films that are completely varied and different, and that touch on a lot of different genres and thematic ideas, but you can still tell it has a point of view and a strong perspective on the world. We’re simple storytellers, but we try to use the tools at our disposal in the most powerful way possible.”

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Kubo And The Two Strings is in cinemas from August 18. Click through for the first and third parts of our interview with Travis Knight. To win one of fifty double passes to Kubo And The Two Strings, just enter our Best Animated Film Of All Time poll, by clicking here.

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