In what has to considered one of the worst summers for blockbusters in recent memory, it is fitting that it is once again an animated film that swoops in to save the day. In a world saturated with superhero movie after superhero movie, reboot after reboot, with almost every single release devoid of artistic direction and invention, it has been the animated films in recent years such as Inside Out, The Lego Movie, How to Train Your Dragon, Zootopia and Big Hero 6 (a superhero movie itself), that have provided us with our cinematic kicks.
Kubo and the Two Strings is the latest effort from the promising stop motion animation studio Laika who have brought us such releases as ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls and their masterpiece up until now Coraline, directed by Henry Selick. First of all it has to be said in my opinion, in many ways stop motion is a vastly superior medium than CGI, and Kubo and the Two Strings is the best example of its power to date. The world and its characters have such weight and texture to them, their movements and the movements of the camera always feel grounded in reality even during the more spectacular sequences. Stop motion has that handcrafted feel of authenticity and personal touch that often is severely lacking in more digitally animated movies. Before the movie started I was inspecting one of the film posters featuring a character called Monkey. As I was staring at the detail of the character, in particular her feathers, I felt an immense sense of anticipation as to how exactly the feathers would sway and pivot gracefully through the wind once the film began. This is the beauty and the essence of stop motion animation and I love it.
The Story of Kubo and the Two Strings centres around a boy named Kubo who slowly learns of his magical past and family’s dark history as he sets out on an epic adventure. It’s a film with sequences reminiscent of Lord of the Rings and Lost and filled with the poetic artistry of films such as Zhang Yimou’s, Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The character creation and originality of designs are second to none and as with Coraline, the movie is not afraid to delve into frightening and terrifying territory as well as adult themes in order to tell its story. The sisters who are the main villains in this movie are sinister and more genuinely creepy than many a character seen in the goriest of horror movies. More than one kid in my screening was reduced to an inconsolable mess of tears in some of the more violent parts of this movie as well, it’s worth noting. I think the best kids movies expose children to themes such as death and loss as well as emotions such as fear and helplessness and although many parents probably might disagree, I think these are all good things.
A few minor complaints stop Kubo and the Two Strings from being a perfect movie, such as a lacklustre final showdown between hero and villain, as well as one particular plot contrivance that I felt a bit mishandled. Other than that, it is the movie of the summer. More superior then anything seen on our screens since arguably Inside Out the previous summer. Go see it.
Originally published on Sep 9, 2016 for UK Film Review.
Director: Travis Knight
Writers: Marc Haimes and Chris Butler
Cast: Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara and George Takei