Review: Kubo and the Two Strings
PLOT: Kubo is a young man who is also a gifted storyteller. Using music, magic and origami, he entertains a small community every day to earn money for he and his mother. However, after staying too late and ignoring his mother’s warning, he finds himself out late at night. Soon, he is discovered by an evil Moon King who will stop at nothing to keep Kubo’s magic for himself and his mysterious daughters.
REVIEW: Ever since Laika Studios introduced us to the wonderful world of CORALINE in 2009, the company has continued to tell inspiring stories of unlikely heroes featuring wonderfully inventive images. In their latest, KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS, Laika creates its most ambitious feature yet. It’s a beautiful world, one that merges fantasy and magic with a powerful story of hope and love. The tale of a young storyteller with a penchant for music, is at times scary and heartbreaking, yet it is always an absolute joy, from beginning to end. In a summer of disappointing blockbusters, this is a refreshing reminder of the power of a great story and the wonder of brave new world.
The film opens with a terrifying journey across a wild and tumultuous sea, when a young mother and her child brave the stormy waters in a tiny boat. After a wave crashes down on her, she and her child are swept onto a strange new land. It is there where they are able to make a new home for themselves. A few years later, the boy has grown into Kubo (Art Parkinson), a resourceful young man who travels to the local town to perform music and tell epic stories of adventure. We soon discover that Kubo’s mother has warned her son about staying inside once the sun goes down. If the moon catches eye on Kubo, the evil Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and his menacing daughters known as The Sisters (Rooney Mara) will not stop until they retrieve the boy and bring him back with them. After an altercation with the two daughters, a magical Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a strange Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) join the young man to help track down three items that will protect Kubo from his enemies.
KUBO may be the the directorial debut of Laika CEO Travis Knight, but you’d be hard pressed to tell. This is an accomplished first feature that continues the studios already impressive streak of brilliantly crafted films like CORALINE, PARANORMAN and THE BOX TROLLS. However, they continue to try out unique and inventive ways to tell their stories, and this is a perfect continuation. As an animator himself, Knight effectively builds this world with incredible sets and vivid characters. One of the most exciting sequences includes a massive skeleton that Kubo, Monkey and Beetle battle. The creature itself is a large scale model and one of the most incredible creations that has ever been seen before in a Laika feature.
The voice actors also help contribute to the power of the film. When it comes to bringing in major stars, both Theron and McConaughey are excellent choices. However, it is the rest of the casting that really grounds this story and brings it to glorious life. Art Parkinson is fantastic as Kubo. The young actor gives enough strength and heart to a character essentially learning about the world around him, as well as places far beyond his own imagination. Adding character actors like George Takai, Brenda Vaccaro and of course Fiennes was a smart move as well. Rooney Mara as “The Sisters” ably gives a haunting quality to Fiennes dark daughters looking to take Kubo away from everything he knows. Laika sure seems to have some strange eye gouging fetish in the worlds they build - see this and CORALINE.
Watching all of this transpire, you almost forget that this is stop motion, and that you find intensive detail to everything on-screen. This is the rare animated film that actually has a costume designer, because everything is handmade here. From the massive ocean that leaves Kubo and his mother shipwrecked, to the fantastical beasts that the trio encounters, there is much to be in awe of. Some of the most impressive sequences involve Kubo spinning tales in the city streets with his magical origami coming to life. Here you will find a hero battling a fire-breathing chicken, a massive shark and a giant spider. Just listening to Kubo’s stories and watching the wonder he creates with his instrument and sheets of paper had my complete attention.
If there is any downside it may simply be that the film was almost too ambitious. While the adventure is certainly exciting, the limitations of stop-motion would occasionally be obvious. However, that minor issue didn’t take away from the sheer beauty on screen and the gorgeous score by Dario Marianelli. And for those of you wondering, the 3D may be the best way to watch thanks to the way it fleshes out this exciting fantasy.
KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS is a miracle of a movie. It is likely the best animated feature of the year thanks to it’s lofty ambition and the handcrafted care that we see on-screen. Laika took approximately four years to make this feature and you can see the care that went into their latest. While it may be a bit terrifying for younger children - The Sisters are quite creepy - it does have a really inspired story that can open up dialogue about family, fear and the power of imagination. It’s great to see Laika embracing the style of the past yet still creating something so uniquely satisfying. KUBO is not only possibly the best animated film of the year, it will likely be one of the best films of 2016.
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