Kubo and the Two Strings is the latest stop motion masterpiece from Oregon’s Laika Entertainment Studios (ParaNorman, Coraline, Corpse Bride). Laika has, in recent years, positioned themselves as one of the best animation studios in the world, rivaling even the mighty Pixar/Disney. The one thing that separates Laika from Pixar and others is that they aren’t afraid to tell a story that breaks conventions — or cliches, and that tradition continues with Kubo and the Two Strings.
Kubo and the Two Strings is the story of a young boy (voiced by Art Parkinson), snatched away by his mother (Charlize Theron) and hidden from his grandfather, the powerful Moon King (Ray Fiennes). The Moon King took Kubo’s eye when he was a baby and now wants the other, so Kubo can take his rightful place at the Moon King’s side. His mother, fearing what her vile father would do, took Kubo and fled, finding solace in a cave outside of a village.
Kubo lives a simple existence in that sleepy Japanese village, taking care of his mother all the while entertaining the villagers with his magic guitar and his wonderful origami-based storytelling. The tales he comes up with are from his mother, who is slowly losing her mind. When she is lucid, she tells Kubo of his family, and of his heritage, and of the dangers of ever being out at night when the Moon King and her wicked twin sisters (both voiced Rooney Mara) can find him, and take his eye — or worse.
Of course, one day Kubo messes up and the sun sets before he can make it home, and the Moon King strikes, destroying the village and sending Kubo off on an adventure with a protective monkey to find three sacred artifacts that can be used to kill the Moon King once and for all. On this journey, Kubo, the monkey, and an origami knight who can lead them to the artifacts come across a Beetle Knight (Matthew McConaughey), who has lost his memories, but knows that he must fight to protect the boy. With their ka-tet intact, Kubo and his protectors go on a wonderful journey to end the Moon King once and for all.
Kubo and the Two Strings sets the bar for action-packed stop motion animation. Some of the scenes here are breathtaking, and I would not have guessed they were done in true stop motion if not for the short making-of documentary that showed before our screening. (This same documentary also gave away the film’s climax, which was troublesome to me and my fellow critics). The world of Kubo and the Two Strings is fully realized and it never felt like it as shot on the top of a table. That is the true magic of what Laika and director Travis Knight have accomplished here. By the end of the first act, I stopped not only seeing this as a stop motion film, but also as an animated film. I was so engrossed in the story and the wonderful characters that the film transcended its own medium and became something more. There is no higher compliment that I can give to the production.
The performances by everyone involved were top notch, with Brenda Vaccaro’s old woman, Kameyo, standing out (both in voice work and in the wonderful animations that Knight and his animators brought to life, especially in her aged face). George Takei also voices a villager. The leads all carry the story well, and I cannot say enough about the visual spectacle of it all. It truly must be seen to be believed.
Kubo and the Two Strings is one of the best movies of 2016, animated or otherwise. It balances an epic story with humor and a coolness factor that truly can’t be measured. And at the end, I got a little teary-eyed. From the first frame to the last shot, Kubo and the Two Strings brings a kind of magic to the screen rarely seen these days, and we are all better off for it.
Kubo and the Two Strings is rated PG and is in theaters now.
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