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.
The latest film from animation studio Laika, ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’, is a terrific adventure tale that further ascertains the studio’s place as one of the primary sources of quality entertainment aimed at children (but with much to love for adults as well). Set in ancient Japan, the film follows Kubo, a young boy with one eye who lives with his ill mother in a cave on top of a mountain. He spends his days wowing the nearby villagers with fantastical stories of great warriors and monsters, brought to life by a form of magic that involves pieces of paper turning into moving origami when he plays music through his shamisen. His mother warns him of the dangers of staying out after dark, with her sisters and grandfather (known as The Moon King) seeking to hunt him down to remove his remaining eye. ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is a confident piece of storytelling and one of the most telling aspects is that a short detour from the main narrative features as much, if not more, inspiration than many of its contemporaries.
One of the first things that struck me about ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is how dark its willing to go with its mythology, and like previous Laika efforts, there’s no fear in delivering scares to create a more effective and immersive story. There are at least two or three moments that approach genuinely frightening, largely down to the superbly drawn characters and effective use of music. The film is created using stop motion animation, but I’d challenge anyone in the audience to realise this until the film is about halfway through, such is the terrific quality of the work. CGI is used for the background and it blends perfectly with the stop motion animation in front of it, and this is really a perfect showcase for the effective use of CGI. The narrative itself is thoroughly engaging, dark and twisted but also engrossing and filled with hope, and whilst the revelations scattered throughout the plot lack the element of surprise, it’s more than made up for in solidly laid groundwork. Unlike many films aimed at children, ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ doesn’t talk down at its audience, choosing instead to trust in the ability of people of all ages to follow along and grasp the mythology successfully.
The core cast is relatively small, but Laika have cast well for its key parts. Art Parkinson (known to me, and I suspect most, as Rickon in ‘Game of Thrones’) is great as Kubo, whilst the plaudits are likeliest to be shared between Charlize Theron’s Monkey and Matthew McConaughey’s Beetle, who provides most of the comic relief. ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is another beautifully rendered animation from Laika that matches its flowing visuals with a captivating story and a powerful message, delivered with subtlety and to the extent it almost sneaks up on you. If you liked Laika’s previous work, this is a must see.
Directed By: Travis Knight
Starring: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Brenda Vaccaro