“Kubo and the Two Strings” stars Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, and Matthew McConaughey. Released on August 19, 2016, the film is about a young boy who goes on a perilous quest to retrieve his father’s armor.
The film marks the directorial debut of Travis Knight, the CEO of Laika. Laika is known for creating stop-motion animated features such as Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls. Even though they’re not as successful as the animated films from Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, and Illumination in terms of box office, they managed to win the hearts of critics and fans of stop-motion alike. Their latest feature, which takes audiences into the world of ancient Japan, marks the true test to see if the production company has what it takes to place itself into the “Animation Hall of Fame”. From what I experienced watching this film, it might be a bit challenging for me to explain my thoughts without spoiling it for you, but I’ll try my best.
The story revolves around a young, gifted child named Kubo (voiced by Parkinson) who finds his life turned upside down when he’s threatened by the Sisters, who are impressively voiced by Rooney Mara, and the Moon King (voiced by Ralph Fiennes). He then goes on a journey to find his father’s armor in order to protect himself from the forces of evil with the help of his comrades: A strict, but helpful, monkey named Monkey (voiced wonderfully by the talented Charlize Theron) and a half-man, half-beetle creature named...Beetle (McConaughey). When I first saw the trailer for this film, I figured that it’s going to have a simple story about some quest. However, I was very surprised by how it was told when I saw it for myself. Yes, it’s about searching for some mystic, powerful thing that can be used to defeat something very evil, but it’s actually more than that. The first half of the film does feel like a typical, yet beautifully designed, quest film, but the second half shifted itself into something that’s remarkably clever in terms of storytelling and the characters. When films have something unexpected that is not shown in the marketing campaign, it can result in some positive or negative responses from the audience depending on their taste. This film marks a great example of the former, in my opinion. The stop-motion animation remains as Laika’s strongest point in their library. Not only does it create some very gorgeous backgrounds, but it also paid respect to the ancient Japanese culture in terms of the character designs and traditions. It felt like I was actually in Japan myself. I also loved the characters...well, mostly Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle. Beetle is considered to be some sort of comic relief without being overly attached to his humor, and McConaughey did a great job at portraying that kind of character. The Moon King and the Sisters are a very nice threat to the heroes. They’re not great villains, but they are very, very mean-looking and creepy, especially the Sisters. I wasn’t able to find anything wrong with this film, but I do feel that it can be a bit scary for very young viewers, even though it is rated PG. I think anyone older than five might be able to handle it if they’re fully prepared.
I really can’t stress this enough, everyone. “Kubo and the Two Strings” is not only my unexpected late summer hit, but it is also, by far, Laika’s best work yet. Filled with remarkable animation and engaging characters, the film turned a simple Japanese quest story into something special. I was really surprised by how it turned out, and I’m hoping to see more of Laika’s future works very soon. Fans of stop-motion animation, families, and those who are into Japanese culture would definitely like this film.