For the past seven years, Laika Entertainment has slowly but steadily become one of the most acclaimed and noteworthy animation studios—despite having only a small catalogue of films, which includes 2009’s mesmerizing “Coraline,” 2012’s greatly underrated “ParaNorman” and 2014’s enjoyable misstep, “The Boxtrolls.” This year Laika has come out with “Kubo and the Two Strings”, helmed by Laika CEO and lead animator Travis Knight, and solidifies itself as one of the best with this release: an extravagant, jaw-dropping and heartbreaking journey of adolescence, adventure and family.
“Kubo and the Two Strings” is set in ancient Japan and follows the story of young Kubo (Art Parkinson), a boy living near a seaside village with his mother, who suffers from a memory disorder resulting from brain damage and always reminds him to not leave the safety of the sun.
If he leaves it, he will hunted by his grandfather, Raiden the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), and Kubo’s mother’s Sisters (both voiced by Rooney Mara), who wish to take Kubo’s eye. Their previous attempt resulted in them only taking one before being stopped by Kubo’s father, Hanzo, who sacrificed himself. However, after attempting to communicate with his deceased father, Kubo is found after dark by the Sisters. He is able to escape when his mother uses the last of her magic to hold off her sisters and send him away from the village, while simultaneously giving life to Monkey (Charlize Theron). Now, with the aid of Monkey, who advises him to find his father’s legendary armor, and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), a samurai who served under Hanzo, Kubo journeys across the land to turn the table on the Moon King and the Sisters.
From the get-go, it is clear that this is quite possibly one of the most beautiful films ever made, a technological marvel of stop-motion animation that is up there with the best of them, alongside Aardman Animations’ “Wallace & Gromit” series and Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie” and “Corpse Bride.” Every single frame and aspect of this film is painstakingly realized by the work of many animators and your jaw will be on the floor at many of the effects, especially during intense action sequences. The voice acting is wonderfully done, with the three major players, Parkinson, Theron and McConaughey, taking turns one-upping one another with their terrific performances. Mara leaves a strong impression with her portrayal of the Sisters’ vehement malevolence, and while Fiennes does a good job, he is rather underused as his character, the Moon King, does not show up until the final act of the film. Another person criminally underused is George Takei, who portrays one of the villagers at the beginning of the film and is primarily used to explain some elements of Japanese culture then disappears. However these slight gripes don’t detract from the overall film.
While this film is worth seeing just for the hard work of the animators and the resulting brilliance, the great voice acting, an exceptional soundtrack with a relaxing and excellent cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and heartbreaking plot elements neatly fold together to leave viewers in a heavy emotional state. Kubo is not only a must-see and one of the best films of the year, it is also one of the best animated films of all time. It is Laika’s calling card and its magnum opus. A tremendous feat indeed.
Film: “Kubo and the Two Strings”
Directed by: Travis Knight
Release Date: Aug. 19
Rating: 5 out of 5