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Fantastic Fest Review: 'Laika' (2018)

Chris is a Houston Film Critics Society Member and a contributor at Bounding Into Comics, God Hates Geeks, and Slickster Magazine.

The official poster for, "Laika."

The official poster for, "Laika."

How to Stimulate a Candy Corn Alien

In the sense that The Wolf House is visually unlike any other stop-motion animation out there, Laika is more along the lines of what you’re expecting with stop-motion. In 1957, Russia launched a satellite into space (the second spacecraft to be launched into Earth’s orbit at the time) known as Sputnik 2, which contained a Soviet space dog named Laika. Laika likely died to overheating a few hours after launch, but the film is a twist on this real life event.

From Czechoslovakian filmmaker Aurel Klimt, Laika is a female dog struggling to support her three pups. She’s abducted by two scientists who want to send her into space in order to gain recognition and infamy for sending the first living creature into orbit. Laika manages to smuggle her pups aboard her spacecraft and they launch into space without a hitch, but they’re swallowed by a black hole that sends them to an alien planet where a bunch of other animals sent into space by other countries also crash land. Meanwhile, Russian astronaut Yuri Leftkin demands to be sent into space in order to properly represent his mother country instead of leaving it in the paws of a flea-bitten scoundrel. However, Yuri eventually finds himself on the same planet completely outnumbered by animals and aliens.

As a viewer, you’re immediately drawn to not only Laika but the animals in the film in general. Laika and her pups are cute and pleasant to look at as are the majority of the other animals while villainous dogs and humans are sinister in appearance and quite ugly. When antagonists in the film speak, it’s as if their entire face and body language are illustrating that they’re in anguish just by mouthing words. They have tiny, beady eyes that never blink and typically have a giant nose with massive nostrils or a smaller nose that protrudes from their face to a dangerous point. Their mouths often take up nearly half of their face when they speak with a head full of teeth being crammed into either the upper or lower jawline.

Laika is an animated musical, but the songs don’t always work. Human songs often come off as harsh and abrasive to the ears with an offbeat rhythm and lyrics that seem to purposely not fit properly. The animal songs are more fun, especially the Laika song and the monkey named Ham’s song about bananas, but they also don’t feel as polished as they should be. Laika’s space training is an interesting sequence. The scientists have selfish goals of becoming famous by using Laika and even though the testing is obviously hard on Laika, the scientists don’t seem interested in purposely harming her. They give off the impression that space can be fun and it’s humorous to think that in between experiments scientist only get drunk, dance badly, and spew a string of nonsensical dialogue that like Beaker from The Muppets.

The alien Queerneck and his incredibly vibrant planet in, "Laika."

The alien Queerneck and his incredibly vibrant planet in, "Laika."

The weirdness of the film arrives in the form of the alien planet. When the animals gather, a strange alien introduces himself by squeezing the utter of a cow and caressing the rump of a pig. Queerneck is just as unusual in appearance as he is in nature. He is visually like a creature made of candy corn with a body that is entirely yellow and covered in orange spots. He has three long appendages on his hands and feet, one eye, giant red lips, and has what looks like corn cobs all over his body including one bulbous phallic member on his crotch. Queerneck has a fascination with copulation no matter the sex or species. He develops a relationship with the cow he squeezes on early in the film and has the desire to see what Yuri is, “hiding under his space suit.”

As if that wasn’t enough, Queerneck has an entire song devoted to his pervy nature while other aliens like one shaped like a green vagina bounce in tune to his song. Some of the animals begin breeding with the aliens with turtle-alien babies being shown at one point. The film takes an even more peculiar turn when Yuri begins targeting the animals as a source for food and he creates a device that sees most of the animals disappear as Laika, Queerneck, and Ham (complete with a banana arsenal strapped to his chest, war paint, and a red headband) attempt to save the day.

Queerneck, Laika, and Ham in, "Laika."

Queerneck, Laika, and Ham in, "Laika."

Laika takes a grim real life event and re-imagines it as something incredibly creative and amusing. The audience is obviously meant to side with the animals and you fall for it as soon as you look into Laika’s sad eyes. There’s this bizarre charm found within Queerneck and his alien planet that seems to imply that even the perviest of individuals can be good-natured, humorous, and reliable friends. There’s an enormous amount of imagination crammed within the walls of Laika’s 88-minute duration and while it doesn’t completely win you over it is an enjoyable out-of-this-world adventure loaded with entertaining craziness.

© 2018 Chris Sawin