The next movie from Hillsboro animation studio Laika will be “Wildwood,” a fantasy tale set in a magical version of Portland’s Forest Park, the company said Wednesday. Travis Knight, Laika’s CEO, will direct the film.
It’s based on a 2011 children’s novel illustrated by Carson Ellis and written by Colin Meloy, singer and songwriter for the popular Portland band The Decemberists. Laika acquired the movie rights to the book a decade ago, but it hadn’t been clear when or if the Oregon studio would film the tale.
Laika describes the movie as the story of a girl named Prue McKeel whose brother, Mac, is taken into the forest by a murder of crows. She and a classmate venture in among talking animals, bandits and magical figures to retrieve him.
Laika didn’t say when it will release the film or whether it will appear in theaters or stream online. It didn’t announce a cast, either, but said Oscar-nominated cinematographer Caleb Deschanel will shoot the movie.
“With ‘Wildwood,’ I have the opportunity to tell a madly ambitious story of magic, wonder, and danger set in the place I grew up,” Travis Knight said in a statement. “My very own Portland will join that pantheon of unforgettable fantasy realms, with a stirring epic that will kindle imaginations, lift spirits, and break hearts.”
Previously, Travis Knight directed the 2016 animated Laika feature “Kubo and the Two Strings” and the 2018 live-action Transformers movie “Bumblebee.” Travis Knight’s father, Nike billionaire Phil Knight, owns Laika.
This will be Laika’s sixth film and its first since 2019, when it released “The Missing Link.” The COVID-19 pandemic subsequently slowed production and prompted the studio to lay off 56 in 2020 as it sought to limit employees’ exposure to the disease.
All of Laika’s movies have been nominated for Oscars in the best animated feature category, and “The Missing Link” won a Golden Globe in that category. But “The Missing Link” was a major box office disappointment, bringing in less than $27 million at the worldwide box office.
That was the worst showing of any Laika feature, by far, and Travis Knight said afterwards that the studio would begin exploring streaming as an alternative to theatrical releases. COVID-19 has further dented theaters’ allure, with even many prospective blockbusters appearing on streaming services at the same time they hit the multiplex.