| A young boy named Kubo must locate a magical suit of armor worn by his late father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past.
As a work of stop-motion animation, Kubo and the Two Strings just might be the best looking thing to ever come out of Laika Entertainment, which is written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler and directed by Laika’s own president, Travis Knight. The images on screen are beyond breathtaking with painstaking detail brought into every spellbinding period specific set-piece and every darkly resonant tonal shift. Furthermore, young children (and the young boy or girl within us) will be beside themselves in awe when the origami magic really hits its crescendo midway through the movie. spiders, birds, snakes and even samurai warriors are constructed out of multicolored paper.
I’ve always appreciated animation, but with stop-motion, it’s extra level of appreciation, knowing the extra hard work they put into even just to get a few seconds of shots. It’s a level of dedication and discipline that never ceases to blow my mind, that’s why I’m a huge fan of Laika (‘Coraline’ being my favourite). Especially with this latest film of theirs, the scale is much bigger, there’s a sequence involving a large skeleton giant, your brain starts to wonder as you see that scene just how many hours, how many weeks, how many months did it take for them to make that happen.
“Your magic is growing stronger. You need to learn control. But when we grow stronger the world grows more dangerous.”
￼The screenplay by Mark Haimes and Chris Butler has an epic feel and keeps the action sequences moving at a fast pace after a leisure beginning as its sets up its character and the interrelationships of this trio of adventurers. The direction by Travis Knight is impeccable. He envisions surreal worlds that are masterful created by him and his creative team. In general, the voice-over work is strong and appealing too, especially by Ms. Theron, Ralph Fiennes as the Moon King, and Art Parkinson in the title role. There is also fine work from George Takei, Brenda Vacarro, and Rooney Mara in smaller roles. However, Mr. McConaughey’s vocals never quite blend with his character, but, in his defense, the character needed better development on the written page and in its animated form.
As a story, Kubo can be accredited for being uncharacteristically mature and even a little somber for a children’s movie. It stands alone foisting upon the viewer themes of loss and remembrance that isn’t just there as a hurdle to get over but as a reality meant to be both felt emotionally and in Kubo’s case metaphysically. There’s real pain within the excitement and fastidious world-building. Pain that may just go over the heads of your little ones but will hit anyone paying attention like a ton of bricks.
Yet Kubo isn’t without some serious drawbacks the largest of which is its rather byzantine plot. Revelations involving Kubo’s new friends were probably expected to produce grasps but succeeding in only producing confusion or disappointment. What’s worse, the epic world building has an epic amount of exposition to go with it. Instead of letting the story breathe when it needs to, the rules of the film are clunk out like the rangy spare pieces of a model set. I wanted to know more about Beetle. I wanted to know more about Monkey. But instead we’re treated to long tracts of dialogue explaining in exhausting detail the birds in the sky as congruently relevant psychopomp.
Overall, a visually unique fantasy adventure that is willing to go into dark imagery and deep themes. Like previous movies from Laika it puts you on an adventure that explores darker aspects but without ever feeling exploitative. In a world full of pointless sequels and remakes an original story like this that treats its audience of all ages with respect is a thing of beauty that should not be missed.
‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ gets a 7.8/10.
PS. Despite it’s minor flaws, please go see this movie and support Laika Entertainment! They really deserve recognition for their hard work and their awesome style of art & animation.