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Kubo And The Two Strings (Blu-ray Review)

In what seems like an incredibly perfect match, Shout! Factory will be releasing new digitally remastered versions of the first four films from the wonderful stop-motion animation studio, LAIKA. Those films include Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls and Kubo and the Two Strings. In addition to the new restorations, every release will feature new bonus features while carrying over the old ones. Also, a booklet is included inside the packaging. For today’s review, we’ll be taking a look at their fourth feature Kubo and the Two Strings, which found LAIKA taking aim at crafting something out of the samurai lore. ParaNorman and Kubo and the Two Strings are the second wave of these LAIKA Blu-rays arriving from Shout! Factory on September 14th. The other two films were released back in August. You can land yourself a copy of Kubo and the Two Strings by clicking the paid Amazon Associates link that follows the review.

Film

Young Kubo’s (Art Parkinson) peaceful existence comes crashing down when he accidentally summons a vengeful spirit from the past. Now on the run, Kubo joins forces with Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) to unlock a secret legacy. Armed with a magical instrument, Kubo must battle the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and other gods and monsters to save his family and solve the mystery of his fallen father, the greatest samurai warrior the world has ever known.

LAIKA was building and building and build it seems to get to this ultimate apex. While their previous effort didn’t have quite the all-timer story as the first two films, Kubo and the Two Strings gets it all back on track. This is the kind of story that feels like all of the previous films had contributed some sort of element in the animation, storytelling and characters to culminate in this film. A sort of Voltron type effort of sorts.

This animation studio seems to have been geared to a lot of my personal cinematic tastes and passions. Of course, the first few have had a lot of horror influence upon them, and Kubo is no different here, but the fourth movie goes into the world of samurai films. They’ve certainly done the work and are as big of fans themselves, which such a knowledge and respect for the genre with what they have taken the time to animate to the screen. And at the same time, they’ve given it their own life, their own flavor and keeping in tune with their own brand/genre they are building.

In terms of the animation, Kubo has really launched them into giant efforts. There are big monsters here, sweeping big fantasy environments and more all over. This one really is a complete visual wonderland and almost poetic in its journey from scene to scene. It has the base of a literary epic come to life. Getting into the more minute details of the animation, they’ve done some impressive things with the clothing and characters as well. There’s a lot of clothing movements that likely get overlooked that are extremely difficult to pull off in stop motion animation, but they have accomplished that. Playing the instruments is no easy feat either. Yet, it comes across like another day at the office for LAIKA in the finished product.

For this reviewer, it is an extremely tough battle for my top LAIKA film, but the fact that I find three of them to argue to be on my favorite films list, that’s pretty terrific. Kubo and the Two Strings might very well be my favorite. As I was going through them, I was like “Oh wait, its Coraline.” Follow that with “No, how could it NOT be ParaNorman“. But when Kubo came its turn, I was like “Yeah, its definitely Kubo and the Two Strings.” And that’s really not a bad problem to have.

Video

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: The press release for these LAIKA releases boasted “digitally remastered editions”. But some other outlets were saying aside from Coraline’s switch from VC-1 to AVC encoding, they were the same transfers on the first two discs back in August. I’ll go on Shout! Factory’s word that they’d done some tinkering with it.

Depth:  These films all have some wonderful three dimensional appearances to them. The characters are well rounded and feel as if you could touch or pick them up. Movement is stop-motion smooth, with no issues regarded and rapid motions in action sequences that aren’t a result of the animation style.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and rich and provide great shading and contrast to promote a sharp, detailed picture with strong colors. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction:  Colors really punch and pop while keep a bold, heightened reality feel to them. The more fantastical, the more the burst comes. Its well saturated and really a standout.

Flesh Tones: N/A

Noise/Artifacts: None

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English Descriptive Video Services, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

Dynamics: Kubo and the Two Strings carries over its superb 5.1 track which is quite loud, full and engaging. There’s a good presence in the entire room with a great balance of the vocals, effects and score in the film. Kubo has some masterful layering and really has some really thoughtful ideas to bring this fantastical tale to live and make it engaging and believable.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  There is some good booming that comes from the music with the drums and the bass. Many of the big action scenes and sound effects give a good boom from the subwoofer.

Surround Sound Presentation: The room is littered with terrific little sounds and soundscapes to bring this imaginative world to life. From the sounds of clothing ruffling and characters traveling across the screen, it feels quite engaging and lifelike with terrific ambiance.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp. Attention to an actors diction and overall mouth sounds is pretty apparent and top notch.

Extras

Kubo and the Two Strings comes with a DVD copy of the film and an insert booklet.

Audio Commentary

  • with Director/Producer Travis Knight

Inside LAIKA: Confronting the Epic Challenges of Kubo and the Two Strings (HD, 13:38) – Another terrific little piece showcasing how they continue to push what the LAIKA studio can do. This one goes into how the costumes and props became the challenge this time. Of course it goes into the design and creation of the films bigger elements and monsters as well.

Inside LAIKA: Revisiting the Puppets with LAIKA’s Animation Team – The team brings out some of the old puppets from the film and reflects and motions them around a bit.

  • Little Hanzo (HD, 1:54)
  • Monkey (HD, 2:02)
  • The Sisters (HD, 1:45)
  • Beetle (HD, 1:46)
  • Moon King (HD, 2:05)
  • Mother (HD, 2:13)
  • Kubo (HD, 2:00)

Feature Length Storyboards (HD, 1:32:19)

Kubo’s Journey (HD, 28:27)

Corners of the Earth (HD, 3:06) 

The Myth of Kubo (HD, 2:33)

Still Galleries (HD) – Character Art, Concept Art, Behind The Scenes

Trailer (HD, 1:00)

Summary

Kubo and the Two Strings is a marvelous samurai influenced fantasy tale and quite possibly LAIKA’s crowning achievement. Shout! Factory returns it to Blu-ray, adding touches to improve the experience. It has a wonderful presentation with both pristine audio and video. While carrying over all the extras from before, they’ve added some to bolster the wealth and add some reflection to the film some five years after its release. As with all four of these titles, this upgrade is very incremental, hardcores may be the only crowd that this jump is necessary and pleases to higher degrees.

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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