KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS
Director: Travis Knight
Starring: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei
I’ve seen quite a few animated films this year, and Kubo and the Two Strings ranks as the very best of that list. A young boy named Kubo (Parkinson) lives in a rocky cliff above town. He wears a patch over his eye, which was taken by his grandfather, Moon King (Fiennes) when he was a little boy. His father perished while trying to protect him, and now his mother keeps him in hiding from his grandfather and two aunts (both voiced by Rooney Mara) who are out to claim the other eye. During the daytime, Kubo spends his day in the village as a street performer telling stories and using magic to bring his origami creatures to life. The only rule he has is to be back before sundown. One day he loses track of time as he is trying to use a lantern to reconnect with his father. The darkness brings out his wicked aunts who have now found him in the city. His mother is able to save him by whisking him off to a far land but is killed in the process. Hope is not lost for Kubo in the far land as he finds himself under the protective watch of Monkey (Theron), which happens to be his toy charm that has come to life. She’s a no-nonsense mentor hoping to lead him in the right direction. Along their quest Beetle (McConaughey), who is half human samurai and half beetle, joins them as they set out to find the armor that once belonged to Kubo’s father. Those three pieces are the only things that will protect him from Grandfather.
Kubo and the Two Strings is the latest from Laika films, the creative minds behind Coraline, The Boxtrolls, and ParaNorman to name a few. They’ve come to be known for their stop motion animation, and Kubo is their best feature to date. It will certainly give Pixar and Disney a run for the money come Oscar time. When you think about the upper echelon of Pixar films and what they have to offer in terms of storytelling, animation, distinct worlds, voice work, and a creative vision, Laika has brought all of that to Kubo and have firmly placed them in that league of taking animation to that next level. The gorgeous stop motion animation excels at bringing a variety of landscapes, creatures, and Japanese culture to life. It’s so breathtaking that the whole story could be told even if there was no dialogue.
Kubo runs the gamut of emotions, as it constantly plays smart with its audience without falling into the standard childish tropes that can be found in animated movies. At times it can be very funny with the playful back and forth banter between Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle. The goofy cluelessness of Beetle will garner plenty of laughs without relying on potty humor or cheap laughs. It asks younger audience members to go on a journey where the main character is a young kid whose parents have passed away and his grandfather and aunts are out to get him. In theory, it’s a fairly scary concept, and there are some thrilling and adventurous moments. The aunts are made to look like witches, so it could frighten wee little ones. This film skews a bit older than some of the other Laika movies. For those old enough, it will be an edge of your seat adventure all the while telling a poignant story.
The film is directed by Laika CEO Travis Knight with a screenplay by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler. Another reason why it is targeted for a slighter older audience than your standard animated kid’s flick is that it tackles very strong subjects along the way. Kubo learns how stories can get passed down from generation to generation to shape our past and future. Death plays a big factor into the story, so the film can be a great teaching tool for parents on how we hold on to memories of those we have loved and lost along the way. Knight has a wonderful cast to bring these characters to life. Every actor brings their A-game and easily plays into their strengths to make these characters as rich as possible. As Kubo’s travel companions Theron brings her usual strength and heroism to Monkey, while McConaughey is perfect at the daft beetle. He’s basically playing the stereotype of himself but in animated form. Rounding out the villains of the film are Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as Kubo’s evil aunts and Ralph Fiennes as Grandfather. It’s a role that, yet again, proves why he makes the perfect bad guy. You’ll instantly recall his memorable role as Voldemort in the Harry Potter films.
I sat in total awe of Kubo and the Two Strings. Don’t let the title throw you off. It will become clear during the finale, and it will no doubt touch your heart. There’s so much to revel in as it showcases the powerful storytelling that can be accomplished through animation. It raises the stakes and proves why films, like The Secret Life of Pets for instance, was such a let down when it took such a cheap and easy way out. It’s sad that that film goes on to make hundreds of millions of dollars when Kubo will have to fight very hard to see a fraction of that income. It’s a visual feast that is accompanied by a beautiful score by Dario Marianelli (Atonement) that aids in carrying you along on Kubo’s quest. Let’s get that Oscar campaign going now for Kubo as it’s one epic that cannot be matched this year.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Kubo is exceptional in every possible way.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS