Move over, Pixar: there’s a new game in town. “Kubo and the Two Strings” is the latest big screen effort from Laika, an animation studio that has had its own ups and downs over the years, but reaches a new level in quality and storytelling with this gorgeous, haunting film. The sheer artistry on display here is overwhelming, from the richness and scope of the animation to the imaginative fable that incorporates Japanese samurai mythology.
Laika’s signature animation style is loved by some and loathed by others (I’m in the former camp). Since it’s stop-motion yet still computer animated, the characters move in a very specific way, which really adds to the feel of the film. There’s a great deal of depth and complexity in the animation that mirrors the story’s narrative. The overall themes of kindness, remembrance, redemption and discovering your own bravery are decidedly adult. It’s hard not to love and be inspired by Kubo’s heroic nature.
In the story, young one-eyed boy Kubo (Art Parkinson) accidentally summons a spiteful, vengeful spirit. Guided by his late father (who appears as a silent origami warrior), Kubo goes on a great quest with Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) and Monkey (Charlize Theron) to solve a mystery involving his dad’s armor. Kubo must eventually face his grandfather, the evil Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), to take a stand against his blindness to humanity. Kubo does so with his magical musical instrument as his only weapon.
The voice talent reaches perfection across the board. McConaughey adds comic relief but in a sincere, honest way. Theron gives a heartbreaking, quietly ferocious performance too, and Fiennes finds the perfect balance that mixes sinister with kindness.
Make no mistake, this is a very sophisticated film in both style and tone (and in my opinion shouldn’t be marketed to family audiences). There are more than a few very frightening scenes that are certain to scare delicate kiddos. I would recommend this film for mature, thoughtful kids ages 11 and up. A good litmus test for parents is whether or not your kid could handle “Frankenweenie,” “ParaNorman” and “Coraline.” If they sailed through those without incident, then “Kubo” will be suitable for them.
What a true pleasure it is to see a smart animated film with such a fully realized scope. “Kubo and the Two Strings” is touching, magical, masterful and a must-see.
Beautifully animated by the studio Laika, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is a well-written story of a brave young boy who must set out on a epic quest following the death of his parents. It is easily one of my favorite animated movies of the past several years and proves the point of how an art form using drawings, clay figurines, and computers can be used to express emotions in a way that can be even more evocative than using live actors.
Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young boy living in a village with his mother. When vengeful supernatural spirits come looking for him, he is forced to venture out in search of a magical suit of armor that can help protect him against his evil grandfather (Ralph Fiennes). Along the way, he is helped by his guardians Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey).
Laika’s stop-motion animation style is well-suited for Kubo’s story; the world of “Kubo and the Two Strings” is fully realized. The backgrounds are subtly textured and the paper and clay models lifelike and expressive. The principal voice actors turn in strong performances; even though there are a number of recognizable names in the cast (which, in animated features, is usually all about stunt casting to increase box office draw), they each do a good job of imbuing their characters with a distinct and authentic personality. There are no false notes here; the studio does a great job of building on their strong past (which includes the gems “Coraline” and “ParaNorman”) by taking as much time to get the script right as the animation.
A word of warning: although it’s animated, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is not the right choice for children of all ages. Although the main character is a child, many of the themes are more adult in nature. It’s full of dark material that will frighten younger kids. For older kids and adults seeking a timeless tale of good versus evil in a land of magic and magical creatures where friends, family, and loyalty will help to win the day, it’s a great choice.