STARRING: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brenda Vaccaro, Meyrick Murphy, Minae Noji, Alpha Takahashi, Laura Miro and Ken Takemoto
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.
Kubo and the Two Strings takes up to ancient Japan where we follow a young boy named Kubo, who lives in a cave on top of a mountain with his ill mother Sariatu. Everyday he goes to a nearby village and tells stories by magically manipulating pieces of paper into origami that moves whenever he plays his shamisen. He always returns home before sunset as his mother has explicitly warned him never to stay outside after dark. Unfortunately one time Kubo doesn’t make it back in time, leading him to being hunted down by his aunts aka the Sisters and his grandfather, the Moon King, who is searching for Kubo to to take his remaining eye after taking the other when he was a baby. In order to defeat his grandfather, Kubo must locate a magical suit of armour warn by his late father and is aided on his quest by his little wooden monkey charm brought to life by his mother and Beetle, a samurai who claims to have been an apprentice of Kubo’s father.
Kubo and the Two Strings is the latest feature film from animated company Laika (their filmography includes Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls) and it also happens to be the directorial debut from the studios current president and CEO Travis Knight. Knight has been an animator for over a decade and a half and with his directorial debut, it can be debated that this is the most impressive debut in quite some time.
Firstly, the films stop-motion animation is absolutely stunning with it’s opening scene in the ocean, to the creativity of what Kubo can make from paper in origamis whilst playing his shamisen, to the mannerisms and expressions of the characters on screen. The film feels like a tip of the hat to Hayao Miyazaki’s style of storytelling with animation, as it is set in Japan and uses Japanese folklore as the inspiration for the story. The main thing about the story of Kubo and the Two Strings is that it is a coming-of-age story, handling the subjects of dealing with the loss of a loved one, how death does not end a life or memory of that person and how strong memories can be. While Kubo and the Two Strings is brimming with fantasy, at its core it’s an humanly emotional story that had me completely captivated throughout. It also helps that the voice acting performances carry the story along with Art Parkinson giving his best performance to date as Kubo, with Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey providing great support as Monkey and Beetle, with the two enlightening the screen with their exchanges with one another and the latter at times is a screen stealer. Some of the scenes are memorable, such as a fight with a giant skeleton and personally the scene for me which introduces the Sisters was perfectly handled.
Some can argue that the animation tops the story which has been done before and it’s something that I can understand but for me the main negative I can give it is that it takes too long for the main villain to be given a voice/appearance to provide any sense of dread for the title character as most of the films running time has the Sisters following the trail but the performance from Ralph Fiennes as the main villain is good, just unfortunately introduced too late and very limited in screentime.
Kubo and the Two Strings is a breath of fresh air coming at the end of the summer blockbuster season and unfortunately compared to some of the dross that has come out the last few months, it looks like it will fly under the radar at the box office in comparison to the likes of Kong Fu Panda 3 and The Secret Life of Pets. Kubo easily has the best animation I’ve seen in years and I was completely captives by the story as well with its imagination and themes. It may not be a box office smash but Kubo and the Two Strings will have a classic stamp attached to the title years down the line. 9/10