Experience The Craft And Adventure In ‘Kubo And The Two Strings’ (Movie Review)

kubo and the two strings bannerLaika is currently the studio I have the utmost respect for. Just knowing this stop-animation studio has more films coming down the line to be distributed by Focus Features makes their next project one of my most anticipated films of that year. There latest film, Kubo and the Two Strings, is another amazing accomplishment. It combines breathtakingly beautiful (and ridiculously complicated) animation with a well-thought out adventure tale. True to form, Laika has also layered the story with some complex themes and elements that make the film rewarding for younger and older audiences.


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Set in Ancient Japan, Kubo tells the story of Kubo (voiced by Game of Thrones’ Art Parkinson), the boy storyteller who sports an eyepatch and uses his magic shamisen to bring origami creations to life. Kubo can only be out during the day, as he must care for his sick mother in a cave during the nights. A shift happens however, forcing Kubo to go on a voyage in search of some magical items worn by his late father, a legendary samurai warrior. During this time, he gains allies in the form of Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) to help him in his quest to stop evil.

The narrative, for all its surprises, is not at all that difficult to follow, but it is almost a challenge not to be distracted by the artistry that went into this production. Laika is a studio that crafts everything by hand, with minimal exceptions when it comes to using digital effects to erase cables or mildly enhance environments. Given the scope of this film, it seems like Kubo must have been a near-impossible task that director (and Laika CEO) Travis Knight was able to pull off.

Just from an animation standpoint, one can see the differences between this film and their other (already fantastically made) features. While ParaNorman utilized 3D printed faces and The Boxtrolls had some very large models, Kubo features many different locations, wild creatures and little details, such as the constant movement of Kubo’s distinctive haircut. The film is only 95-minutes without credits, yet feels about as epic as a stop-animation style film can be and that is incredibly impressive for a feature where only seconds of footage can be created a day.

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Not hurting is the incredibly talented writing team that adds an extra level to Laika’s accomplishments. While Knight and Sharon Tindle (who had the original story idea) were inspired by old samurai films, Kung-Fu movies and Star Wars, among other references, writers Marc Haimes and Chris Butler really ran away with this one. In addition to developing a new take on the hero’s journey, the film features an emotional payoff that has been key to Laika’s success as both animators and storytellers.

Coraline focused on fairy tales and familial relationships. ParaNorman mashed up a zombie adventure with the perils of bullying. The Boxtrolls meshed fantastical creatures with themes involving class-based society. Kubo is about the power of storytelling, which is cleverly woven throughout this tale and results in a finale that is both profound and emotional. The solutions to Kubo’s problems come at a cost and do not make things easier and it’s a credit to this filmmaking team that they would want the audience to accept a story like this, rather than take an easier way out.

That gets ahead of things though, as the film is also full of excitement, humor and warmth. Kubo’s stories are wonderful to hear as well as see in action thanks to an origami samurai (another impressive model design, given the size). The journey allows for numerous colorful settings as well as some great creature reveals and action. It is also great to know the film has both the ability to make jokes and treat certain scenarios quite seriously.

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While a slight knock may go to the film for not assembling a more diverse cast, it doesn’t take away from the excellent vocal performances found throughout. Parkinson has all the innocence as well as the drive and spunk needed for the lead role. Theron and McConaughey are quite strong as support. Rooney Mara provides icy menace in a dual role as the Sisters (two creepy characters behind emotionless masks). Lastly, not to say much, but Ralph Fiennes has some tricky duties in order to effectively play the Moon King.

The whole thing comes together thanks to both an appropriate score from Dario Marianelli and proper work from the editors and directors of photography. Matching a sense of scope with the emotionality present throughout easily builds the direction of the film and the sense of awe that comes with seeing how it all unfolds. It is one thing to see Kubo face off against a skeleton with many swords implanted in its skull or watch a fight between Monkey and the Sisters, but it is another thing to know why these scenes are so important.

Clearly I’m not masking the fondness I have for Laika and their films. Even when The Boxtrolls turned out to be merely above average, there is still a technical wizardry more than apparent that I could admire. Kubo and the Strings, however, is a great step to the next level. Their proven handle on story paved the way for a fantastic feature that allows audiences to see just how far things have come for the world of stop-motion animation. Don’t blink, as there is a great film to see here and it is certainly worth the journey.


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