Movie Review: ‘Kubo And The Two Strings’

Review by Lori Buswold

Set in ancient Japan, the story centers on Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson from “Game of Thrones”), a young boy who wears a black patch over his missing eye and likes to weave tall tales for anyone who will listen. One day he accidentally sets an evil force loose, summoning up his supernatural grandfather, who offers him eternal life in exchange for his remaining eye. It’s an offer he can refuse, and it sets him off on an adventure to discover the fate of his parents — in particular his father — and to retrieve three items that will become key in defeating the forces of evil. He picks up a snow monkey (Charlize Theron) and a wiseacre samurai beetle (Matthew McConaughey) to help him along the way, where they run into others including the slippery Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and a pair of evil twin sisters (both voiced by Rooney Mara) who try to cause problems for our young hero.

Director Travis Knight, with the help of screenwriters Marc Haimes and Chris Butler, has laid out a classic sort of story that works not only as a slam-bang adventure but also as animated art. Most films of this ilk are computer generated these days, but not the movies coming out of Laika. These artists work in the time-honored tradition of stop motion, a painstaking process that pays off in a gorgeous-looking, and quite different, film experience. With a nod to the 1950s and early ’60s work of Ray Harryhausen, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is nothing less than a great homage to moviemaking of another, virtually lost era. Dario Marianelli’s lush, Asian-fused music score is of enormous help as well. There’s also a nice touch at the end credits with a new version of the Beatles classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” perfectly chosen for the themes of the film.

Oregon-based animation house Laika has been on a roll as all of its first three stop-motion-animated movies — “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” and “The Boxtrolls” — were nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. The company probably will make it 4-for-4 with “Kubo and the Two Strings,” an exciting, original and unforgettable adventure for the whole family that will also likely tug at your heartstrings. Laika President and CEO Travis Knight takes the directing reins for the first time, and the results challenge any of the company’s previous efforts in terms of ambition, scope and sheer style. It is an epic inspired by the tradition of Kurosawa and Lean, mixed with more than a bit of the fantasy of “The Wizard of Oz.”

Fun bit of trivia. One of the main sculptors/creators at Laika studios, and for “Kubo,” is Toby Froud. His parents were partners with Jim Henson in the creation of “The Dark Crystal” and “Labyrinth.” Now lets take it one step further into nerd trivia bliss…Toby is the baby in “Labyrinth.” So the seeds of fantasy and love of creation were planted very early on in his life! Yes, he is the babe with the power…except unlike in “Labyrinth,” it’s not the power of voodoo, but rather the power of creative artistic brilliance.

Please understand that the animation magic does not rely on computer generated bits and bites, but on painstaking love and devotion by the sculptors and animators who brought “Kubo” to life through old fashioned stop animation. CGI special effects come into play for lighting, backgrounds and enhancements, but all the characters are real puppets that take several days of slow meticulous movements for mere minutes of film footage.

The story is ancient, but the magic and beauty that Laika brings in the telling of it, is a new level of brilliance and imagination that has never been seen before. “Kubo” is destined to become a cherished classic to be seen several times on the big screen, and countless times once it’s available on DVD. Be warned. If you are taking children to see this movie, buy an origami book and plenty of paper ahead of time! “Kubo”’s magic abilities with origami will have young and old alike wanting to learn the delicate and graceful art.

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