UK Release Date: 9th September 2016
Runtime: 102 minutes
Director: Travis Knight
Writer: Marc Haimes, Chris Butler
Starring: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
Synopsis: A child who captivates his village with his stories, brought to life by magical origami, must take on a dangerous adventure when his grandfather begins to pursue him for his magical abilities.
Laika has very quickly established itself as one of the most unique and interesting voices in the field of cinematic animation. Movies such as Coraline and The Boxtrolls have established the studio as a reliable creator of quality cinema that appeals to all of the family, with a dark, surreal edge. Their latest movie, Kubo and the Two Strings, is set in ancient Japan and has all of the same macabre hallmarks that have allowed Laika to make their presence felt. It might well be their best film to date.
Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young boy with magical powers that allow him to bring origami figures to life, delighting villagers with his stories of heroes and adventure. He is constantly warned by his mother not to go out at night, or he would risk being tracked down by his evil grandfather The Moon King (Ralph Fiennes). When he violates that advice, he finds himself in great danger with only a monkey (Charlize Theron) and a warrior beetle (Matthew McConaughey) to protect him. In order to destroy The Moon King and save himself, he must find and unite three magical objects.
Laika movies are always visually impressive, but Kubo and the Two Strings takes that to the next level. This is stop motion animation at its most sumptuous, elegant and evocative, from Kubo’s gently swaying hair to the Harryhausen-homaging skeleton that attacks our heroes halfway through their quest. Effort and love oozes from every pore of the film, with every landscape rendered in wonderful detail and the characters given expressive faces. The same detail is afforded to some of the more grotesque aspects of the film, such as Rooney Mara‘s evil aunts, who are like something ripped from the macabre corners of a Guillermo del Toro fantasy world.
Given these macabre edges, Kubo and the Two Strings is certainly frightening, but this shouldn’t put off parents. This is a film that credits even the youngest members of its audience with a certain amount of emotional maturity and strength of will. The movie tells a deep, complex story about loss and how potent memories of loved ones can be. It’s a lofty message that only creeps in for the final act of the film and, although it might seem too complex for children, Laika has immense confidence in its storytelling and trusts its audience to go along with what it is trying to do.
The voice performances are very impressive, starting with Game of Thrones star Art Parkinson in the leading role. He nails the complexity of Kubo in a way he never managed with Rickon Stark, forming a sparky relationship with Charlize Theron’s maternal monkey. Theron’s grumpy performance is a delight, especially in combination with McConaughey’s relentless optimism and comic relief. McConaughey, in particular, provides much-needed levity in amongst the adventure narrative, especially in the scarier and darker-edged scenes. His character also proves far more integral to the plot than the story initially suggests.
Kubo is just a perfect synergy of child-friendly action-adventure, genuinely innovative and lovingly crafted animation and a splash of genuinely disturbing darkness. This is the crowning achievement of Laika’s oeuvre to date and an amazing showcase for the fact that stop motion still has a part to play in modern animated cinema. There’s an argument that it doesn’t work for the kids as much as it should, but for maturer young people, it’s a very rewarding watch.
Pop or Poop?
Laika has hit a real home run with Kubo and the Two Strings, which balances family fun with mature themes and real adventure thrills. It’s terrifying when it needs to be, funny when it needs to be and totally gripping for its entire running time.
Strong voice performances, especially from young Art Parkinson, make the most of a sparky script and propel the film to the heights it deserves. Like a piece of origami, this is an intricate creation assembled with deft, delicate precision.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.