Synopsis – A young boy named Kubo must locate a magical suit of armor worn by his late father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past.
My Take – Nowadays it is rare to see something original & remarkable, as most of the films hitting our theatres are sequels, reboots, remakes etc. This stop motion animated film is one of those rare films. I remember watching the trailer online and was instantly interested in watching it, mainly as the film is produced by the widely acclaimed Laika Studios. Surviving alongside for almost a decade alongside major studios like DreamWorks, Disney, and Illumination who continue trotting out safe, eye-appealing kid’s films, this small Claymation studio Coraline. ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls) has long been pioneers in stop-motion animation, a time-consuming and difficult art form. This studio has always set a high bar in terms of animation, although its storytelling never quite equal that pinnacle of success. However, with this film, it has finally combined the two and has created a joyous and totally satisfying film experience. It is original, beautiful to watch and has heart and soul. It’s a film that exceeds more than just their use of performances and impressive visual style with their usual somber aesthetic and shockingly relatable fables. This time, they finally step out of their usual Gothic horror design and focus more on a Miyazaki- inspired Eastern palette. The quirkiness of this film only adds to its lovability. It is hard to find an original film and using origami as the base of this film is simply genius. The result might finally replace their previous film ParaNorman as their definitive peak of their abilities, and probably be the best stop-motion film ever made since Nightmare Before Christmas. If this film was told from another perspective, it might be considered a bit preachy. It still might be, regardless. But no matter how you look at it, it is something to be looked at more than once. It is simply an amazing work of animated achievement in cinema. There is a story in it and the adventure is grand and fun, but I can’t place it into a category of traditional storytelling. The themes of the film are the values of memories and how we truly can never forget people that we lose throughout our lifetime. Very mature themes that are handled with such finesse and creativity that I can’t say I have seen anything like it before. Even when you as the audience know where the story is headed, the film surprises you with the delivery and you actually grow and learn with the characters.
The story follows the young Kubo (Art Parkinson), a one-eyed kid who has mastered the art of origami and storytelling in an ancient fantastical Japan. Everyday Kubo goes out to earn money during the day by entertaining audiences in the middle of a market with fantastical tales of heroic samurai on treacherous crusades but he comes home right before sundown to tend to his frail mother, who suffers from bouts of amnesia. One evening, while Kubo participates in a customary ritual to receive guidance from his departed father’s spirit, he inadvertently ignores his mother’s warnings not to stay out past nightfall and is accosted by his mother’s sisters, two evil witches (Rooney Mara) who are out to get Kubo’s other eye. The past catches up to them, an old vendetta resurfaces, Kubo must run and join forces with Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a beetle man (Matthew McConaughey) on a quest to retrieve the helmet, the sword unbreakable and the armor that would prepare Kubo to fight his grandfather, the vengeful Moon King (Ralph Fiennes). This quest would unlock Kubo’s family mystery and lead him to fulfill his destiny. The plot is so simple but yet very much profound. While so many studios are cranking out franchises, adaptations, complex plots, and young adult dramas, the Laika production company chose a different route. It chose a route that proves that the mastery of visual storytelling that showcases the art of cinema is still alive. In a world of the business of film-making, this one returns us to the art of filmmaking. Also, the filmmakers let the characters explain when they need to, yet when they do it’s done in the form of storytelling – at one point when Monkey is finally pressed by Kubo (and Beetle too) to say what is going on with his otherworldly grandfather and his Aunt who is out to, well, kill him and what Monkey has to do with it, she can only tell it as Kubo plays his guitar and the papers for his origami go into the air to show as she tells. This film has action, it has love drama, it has family drama, it has a great sense of humor and it’s also about community coming together to help one another. It has its own way of featuring and respecting Japanese art and tradition, but even if you’re not too familiar with that particular culture, the film resonates much deeper than just the aesthetics. It’s a film that’s perfect for the whole family. And on top of that, it delicately teaches our young ones about how to grieve in a healthy manner.
This is a film that loves storytelling and storytellers, and yet never forgets that this is a full-bodied cinematic experience. The strength of the film is the pure visceral experience it provides. The visuals and sound had a layer of depth and drama that you feel in your inner core. It is more of an experience than it is a film that you watch. Throughout the film, I felt moments of sadness, loss, happiness, horror, fear, and accomplishment. It is a film that truly raises the bar for animation and it saddens me that many people will not check it out as it is very different from traditional animated films that we are used to seeing from other major animation studios. So much care and attention went into this film. Anyone who is familiar with Laika studios work will not be disappointed in how the film looks. The world Laika has created is rich with so much history, story, mythos, and culture that even some films and series that are much longer can’t fully create. I felt that the world is living and that magic is truly alive. I love how the character make it feel special that magic exists, but aren’t put of by it, when they see it for themselves and have to question the logic. The plot tends to wander in the middle of the film as the basic components of a grand adventure weigh on the uniqueness of the individual missions, which occasionally fail to transition or relate to the overarching concepts as smoothly as the should. Similarly, the editing together of a few scenes is abrupt, as if segues was cut out for time. But it does succeed handsomely at the start. Setting a tone and introducing characters are efficiently handled tasks, but steadily incorporating the magical elements is done superbly. By the time the talking monkey shows up, it never once feels out of place. The possessed folded paper, the phantasmal music, and the winning expressions on strangely palpable faces are all natural, amusing pieces of this vivid trek of continual wonderment and excitement. The voice performances are too good to dismiss. Matthew McConaughey shows his usual charming swagger in Beetle while also pulling off his shortsighted aspects. Charlize Theron once again gives her best as a stern Monkey. Ralph Fiennes is creepy and reminds you of his portrayal as Voldemort in the Harry Potter series. Rooney Mara impresses as the Sinister Twins, who mostly sounds reminiscent of the Twins from The Shining. The standout, though, is Game of Thrones star Art Parkinson who shows his impressive range as Kubo, invoking both the vulnerable and the courageous aspects of his character. On the whole, ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is a terrific film which is both fun and hopeful making it easily one of the best animated films of the year.
Directed – Travis Knight
Rated – PG
Run Time – 101 minutes