Review: Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

Kubo and the Two Strings

Rating

Director

Travis Knight

Screenplay

Marc Haimes, Chris Butler, Shannon Tindle

Length

101 min.

Starring

Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brenda Vacarro

MPAA Rating

PG for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril

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Review

With Coraline, Laika Animation established itself as the most inventive stop-motion animation studio in history. With their successive films, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls, their creativity has known no bounds. While Boxtrolls might not have been on par with Coraline or ParaNorman, their latest effort, Kubo and the Two Strings surpasses them all.

Taking great influence from both Japanese and Western styles of animation and storytelling, Kubo and the Two Strings is a rich and vibrant tale of a young boy (voiced by Art Parkinson) venturing out on a quest to destroy his grandfather, The Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and avoid the clutches of his two aunts (both voiced by Rooney Mara). Staying out late to attempt to commune with his dead father, Kubo mistakenly allows the sisters to find him and wreak havoc on his village and kill his mother. With her dying breath, she empowers a small talisman Kubo keeps with him to come to life as a protector.

The Monkey (Charlize Theron) accompanies Kubo on his quest to find a sword, a suit of armor, and a helmet that will aid him in his battle against The Moon King. On this journey, with the help of a strange Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), Kubo slowly discovers himself, growing into the hero he was destined to be.

The film comes to life in the staggering, painstaking stop-motion animation employed. A team of brilliant, unparalleled craftsman bring each mesmerizing detail to life. From the individual feathers that make up the sisters’ cloaks to the gargantuan skeletal monstrosity that acts as an Act II centerpiece. These myriad details, hand-crafted, form the backbone of the gorgeous animation on display. Laika is one of only a handful of production houses working in the medium, and with four films, they’ve become far more impressive than the prior ruler of the stop-motion game, Aardman Animation.

At Pixar, Illumination, Disney, and DreamWorks, the studios have grown reliant on the animation capabilities of computer-aided design. They create immense and astounding worlds that teem with life and detail. Laika employs some computer design, mostly in the background, but much of the foreground is done entirely out of physical media. This more time-consuming method of creation can also enhance a piece of art, especially done with such exacting detail as this. If ever there were an animated film deserving of a Best Production Design nomination, this would almost certainly be it.

The style of animation is only a portion of the film’s success. Thanks to a compelling narrative and stirring vocal performances, the film bursts with life, invigorating the viewer in spectacular, and enthralling ways. Parkinson handily leads the ensemble with strong support from Theron and McConaughey. Mara’s brief scenes are perfectly constructed while Fiennes early scenes are surprisingly subdued.

The story itself may feel traditional and much of it is modestly predictable, but by the film’s conclusion, the audience will be so captivated that the means of getting there will seem inconsequential to the enjoyment of the film. The denouement itself is modestly unexpected even if the major reveal earlier is foreseeable. This is a narrative of surprising depth and emotional complexity. It may skirt the edges of conventional storytelling, but that helps the audience identify with and support the weight of the whole.

While The Boxtrolls wasn’t Laika’s best offering, it is better than the worst of Disney and Pixar, two of animation’s powerhouses. Kubo and the Two Strings is the kind of rousing, inventive, and potent film that eclipses anything those studios have done in recent years and stands as one of the medium’s greatest singular achievements.

Oscar Prospects

Guarantees: Animated Feature
Potentials: Production Design

Review Written

September 12, 2016

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