Quick Critique: Kubo and the Two Strings

(Originally published 13 September 2016)

Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young boy who lives in a mountain cave with his ill mother (Charlize Theron). He routinely goes down to a local village to create stories by magically controlling origami figures using his shamisen. He must always returning home before dark, as him and his mother are in hiding from his grandfather the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and his evil aunts (Rooney Mara). However, Kubo accidentally breaks this curfew, informing his aunts of his location. After barely escaping them, he journeys with a monkey totem that was magically brought to life and a man cursed to be a beetle (Matthew McConaughey) in order to find mystical items that will help defeat his aunts and grandfather.

Kubo and the Two Strings is the latest outing from Laika, the stop-motion animation studio known for films like Coraline, Paranoman and The Boxtrolls. With the quality of their work being of usual high standard, and with this boasting the largest stop-motion puppet ever created, I had a lot of high hopes for this movie. And it absolutely obliterated them. This is, without question, one of the strongest films that has come out this year.

To start off, the animation is absolutely incredible. Every texture feels real, every movement has a sense of weight and authenticity to its stride. There is a crazy amount of detail put into every frame that watching this just once doesn’t do it any favours. You will be absolutely absorbed into its magic on the big screen. The set pieces of the giant skeleton and the finale are so impressive in scale and technique that they take you back to the days of Ray Harryhausen; this could be as revered for its technique as his work is.

The story is fantastic as well. While probably not the hardest to follow, and a lot of its twists are easy to guess, it has a much more important thematic resonance that makes me okay with this. It’s a story about stories and how they connect us, even beyond death. While it can be rather no holds barred and goes to some pretty dark places, it has such an important message to children that it really doesn’t bother me. I can see people getting a bit turned off to the ending, but it’s execution is so poignant and it takes a direction I did not expect, so it really does earn a bit of cheese.

Honestly, words cannot do justice to Kubo and the Two Strings. It’s funny, poignant, weird, sobering, clever. It has a wonderful fusion of Eastern culture while telling its own story, reminiscent of Studio Ghibli but having an energy and tone completely its own. I loved the characters, the story, the setting, the mythology-I just love everything in this film! It’s arguably Laika’s best work, which is a tall order, and I urge you to go watch it and check it out for yourself. It’s a story well worth telling.

9/10

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