Review - Kubo and the Two Strings
I am in shock. Where did this film come from? I recall seeing trailers for Kubo and the Two Strings and thinking that it looked gorgeous and that it would fall in line with Laika’s other animated films, which is definitely not bad company to be in. Little did I know that I would be walking out of the theater two hours later proclaiming it as my favorite movie of the year. There is so much more to Kubo than the trailers suggest.
Kubo is about a young boy who is sent on a journey by his ailing mother when their lives are threatened by evil forces. His quest is to find his deceased father’s armor which is the only thing that can protect him from his malicious grandfather who is after his eyes (yes, you read that right) of which he has already stolen one. Kubo is not alone though; he is accompanied on this journey by a monkey inhabited by the spirit of his mother, a small paper-mache samurai and a former warrior who is now a giant beetle-like humanoid creature (hard to explain).
From the moment this film started I knew I was in for something spectacular. It’s been such a long time since a film’s style and substance were on an equal level and thankfully Kubo and the Two Strings strikes that rare balance. This film is absolutely wonderful to behold visually and has one of the most emotional and beautifully melancholy stories to tell. This was the first time in a long time that I have seen something in the theater that was wholly original. There’s certainly nothing like Kubo out there, and I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to say that.
I have to give a round of applause to director Travis Knight and the team at Laika. Laika has been churning out stop-motion films for a little over a decade now. I would categorize most of their films as good-to-great, with Coraline leading the pack. This film however, transcends them all. Whereas most of their previous films felt like fun romps through macabre worlds; this one feels like a real adventure with an overflowing amount of heart. It’s also not afraid to be somber and heart-wrenching when it needs to be. The tale deals with the heavy theme of death and the life that follows and it really never shies away from that topic. You have to applaud films that tackle the tougher subjects and pull it off in such a perfect way.
All of the characters in this film are excellent, fully-formed and with great voice actors to back them up. The voice-work here is very well-implemented and you won't be thinking about who is playing who because these voices embody the characters they're playing so well. Art Parkinson, who plays Kubo, does an exceptional job and will just about make you sob in your seat because of how much you believe in the strife of his character. Charlize Theron also does a superb job as the monkey, who is the embodiment of the spirit of Kubo's mother. She's a no-nonsense character who's wise and will protect Kubo until the bitter end. Then we have McConaughey, who was the only one I was skeptical about. Well, I shouldn't have been. McConaughey plays Beetle, a warrior who vows to protect Kubo on his journey; he provides some levity to the proceedings through natural comedic relief. Beetle also has one of the most emotional pay-offs towards the end which, if you're sensitive like me, could draw out a tear or two.
Of course, great characters wouldn't be what they are without great writing. Kubo and the Two Strings is, as you might have guessed, very well-written with a story so unique that I was puzzling for hours afterwards trying to think of things that came close to it. Every character you love gets an emotional and satisfying arc, the villain is compelling and has one of the best resolutions and the journey is exciting with new wonders to witness around every corner.
I'm aware that I mentioned visuals already, but they deserve a full paragraph. Kubo is so mindbogglingly gorgeous that I fail to see how any other stop-motion is ever going to top it. Laika has set the bar so high that everyone else might as well just give up. I kid of course, but really, watch this and have fun scraping your jaw off the floor when you're done. This film deals in vibrant oranges during the day and ghostly blues during the nights which always complement the film's mood in a perfect way. The character designs are also probably the best I've seen for a stop-motion yet. I can't wait to see the special features on this just to see how they pulled it all off. In addition to this; the score by Dario Marianelli is serene and epic and it melds seamlessly with every moment that takes place in the film. There's also a great cover of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" that's definitely worth a download.
The action is extremely well-choreographed. What helps is that each fight scene has actual stakes, and no character is safe. This film is not playing around. You would think that since this is a kids movie, everyone will come out alright on the other side. Nope. I was surprised about the various stages of unrest my body went through during these nail-biting fight scenes. When you notice your hands involuntarily wrapping around the ends of the arm-rests, clinging for dear life, you know there's something the film's doing right.
In the end; the story and the message it conveys are what truly seal the deal for Kubo and the Two Strings. As I mentioned before, it deals with death and all of it's repercussions. Despite such a heavy subject, Kubo handles it with grace and elegance and somehow leaves you with a positive feeling when the credits roll. Kubo's journey is an amazing one to behold and if this doesn't win an Oscar for best animated picture, I will lose faith in humanity.
Kubo and the Two Strings is not only a great film; it's an important one and it needs your support. With some pretty awful looking offerings coming down the pipeline in terms of family entertainment (just watch the trailer for Sing) this one is a stand-out that is trying desperately to show families something new and tackle a subject that is rarely addressed. This film gets my highest recommendation and I wouldn't be surprised if it stays at the very top of my list for the year.