Laika & Nemo
Oct 31, 2022
Jan Gadermann & Sebastian Gadow
Perhaps it’s the painstaking length that filmmakers are required to go to in their production that naturally leads to brilliance. Perhaps Aardman made a blood pact with the devil. Or perhaps critics are all secretly softies who can’t bring themselves to tear apart movies with a production length longer than the Avatar sequel. Whatever it is, stop-motion animation has a cinematic success rate that is second to none; and German production Laika & Nemo is the genre’s latest stunning success.
Nemo is a young man living in a lighthouse who spends his life enclosed in a bolt-iron deep-sea diving suit. Mocked and laughed at in his local town for his unusual ways despite looking out for everyone and keeping the lighthouse running, Nemo’s life is a lonely and difficult one. But one night, after mistakenly shining the lighthouse’s beam high into the night sky, Nemo comes across Laika – an astronaut who has spent his life enclosed in a spacesuit. Their similarities lead to the beginning of a bond, when each recognise that they’re not as alone as they think.
Forgoing dialogue to instead speak straight to its’ audience’s emotional core, Laika & Nemo manages to tell a beautiful short story about isolation, loneliness, friendship and judgement. Nemo’s literal isolation inside his diving suit is mirrored in the isolation he experiences from his nautical town. Upon meeting Laika, both realise that their lives mirror each other’s, despite living literally worlds apart. Their bond, and their selfless attitudes to communities that do not appear to value them, speak to one of the film’s key messages – that differences are there to be celebrated, and allow communities, and friendships, to thrive.
Jan Gadermann and Sebastian Gadow’s storytelling is equal to the masters of the stop-motion craft. Layers upon layers of detail populate each scene, fantastically colouring Nemo and Laika’s lives without requiring a single word. In what is a fifteen-minute short, the film tells a story that extends from the bottom of the ocean to outer space, and yet still manages to include small, touching moments that make its plasticine cast human without ever feeling rushed. The filmmakers brilliantly portray Nemo’s isolation in both claustrophobic, intimate scenes as well as in shots that minimize him into visual insignificance. The duality of the spacesuit and diving suit mirroring Nemo and Laika’s becomes central to the film’s imagery, and leads to some fantastic visuals.
Years’ worth of work building the small ocean town, lighthouse, space-station and deep-sea depths thankfully result in wonderous designs, and the animations of the film are equal to the very best stop-motion work. The weathered, powerful iron suit and lighthouse structure give an authentic sense of lasting. The rain and underwater scenes never appear stilted and interact with the rolling hills and ocean-floor seamlessly. And most importantly, the characters themselves are expressive, alive and empathetic.
Laika & Nemo is an unbridled triumph, and one of the best short films you will see this year. Whilst the tortuous production process of stop-motion to result in only fifteen minutes of film may sound like madness, the film’s audience will carry to memories and emotional connection to the film’s lead characters with them for longer than most feature length films could dream of.