“Laika,” known as “Lajka” in Czech, is a stop-motion animated film from director/co-writer Aurel Klimt. As you may know if you’ve been to Fantastic Fest, just because this movie is animated does not mean it is at all appropriate for children. It played at the fest on Saturday, September 22, and again on Wednesday, September 23. It must also be mentioned that “Laika” is a comedy/sci-fi/musical, which may be a lot to take in.
The film’s inspiration comes from the story of the Soviet space dog of the same name. The real Laika was a street dog chosen for space travel instead of being euthanized, though she died shortly into her trip to space anyway. Even so, she was one of the first animals in space and the first to orbit the Earth.
The fictional Laika is also a street dog chosen to be sent to space, but in this universe the dogs can talk (though humans cannot understand them). The story seems extra sad in the beginning because Laika is a mother to three hungry puppies; however, the movie quickly shows its audience the smarts that Laika is capable of – not only does she escape her captivity with a “Home Alone”-style plan, but she also makes sure her pups are coming with her to space. Once the scientists send her off, she breaks the intercom system so she no longer has to listen or speak to them. As the space craft is floating aimlessly in space, we see more and more show up, both from the U.S. and Russia (or the USSR), and each one of them has at least one animal in it: a chimp, a cow, two birds, a tortoise and a penguin.
Before long, all of the rockets crash onto a planet, where they meet strange creatures and decide to live in peace without humans around. That is, until a jealous astronaut named Yuri (maybe loosely based on Yuri Gagarin) shows up to ruin things.
The story is fairly straightforward, with the animals and Yuri fighting for control over the environment; Yuri is eventually joined by an American astronaut named Neil (sound familiar?) and convinces Neil to fight against the creatures with him. While this may all sound like whimsical, family-friendly fare, it’s far from it. There are a lot of sexual undertones and overtones, including a song about being turned on by pretty much everything from a character named Queerneck, who is also problematically labeled and characterized as a pervert. There’s also some (animated) nudity.
All in all, there are cute, funny and enjoyable moments to “Laika,” especially in the first 20-30 minutes of its 88-minute runtime. The stop-motion animation is less Rankin/Bass and more…grotesque in its character design. The design for the animals, especially the title character and her puppies, is very cute. If you’ve been wanting to add an odd sci-fi musical to your watchlist, then “Laika” should definitely be on your radar. If that sounds even a bit weird to you (in a bad way), then definitely skip it.
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