By Jack Dignan
Laika Animation first came onto my radar with their 2009 stop motion film, Coraline. It was a dark and twisted kids movie, and after rewatching it recently, it still holds up. The studio followed that up with Paranorman in 2012, another kids film with a supernatural twist, and I loved that movie too. In 2014 they released The Boxtrolls, and while many found that to be underwhelming, I really enjoyed it. It's the most family oriented of the three, and it worked. The studio's fourth feature film, Kubo and the Two Strings, sees them tackling a film unlike their previous three works. While it may be a very different movie, that doesn't mean it is of any less quality. In fact, Kubo and the Two Strings is every bit as beautiful as you would expect from Laika.
We follow the story of a young boy named Kubo (Art Parkinson), who spends his days telling stories to the local town, much to their enjoyment. But when the sun sets, evil is abound, and Kubo is forbidden from stepping foot outside of his home. Except one day he does, and he's approached by his mother's two evil sisters (both voiced by Rooney Mara). After a series of mystical, heartbreaking events that shall remain unspoilt, Kubo is separated from his town and his mother. Aided by a Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a Beetle (Mathew McConaughey), Kubo is given the daunting challenge of collecting an ancient armour worn by his father, and if he does so, he will have the power to take down the threatening Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), who is the man behind all this evil.
With deep themes and an emotional storyline, Kubo and the Two Strings is a film that will appeal to all, even at times feeling as though it's more aimed at an adult audience. There's plenty of action and adventure to be found, and when it's on screen it's beyond exciting, but some of the best moments in this movie are the slower, quieter and more personal moments involving Kubo. It's our emotional attachment to this character that had me invested in his story, and while the third act isn't nearly as emotionally powerful as it thinks it is, I really dug what they were trying to do.
Taking us on this moving journey are a trio of heroes, all of whom kick some serious ass and each have a unique and loveable personality. Right from the opening scene, I was already attached to Kubo. It's impossible not to be, and you'll see why. He makes for a fascinating and layered character, and the voice work by Parkinson is excellent. His two companions, Monkey and Beetle, needed a bit more of an introduction before I was fully invested in their stories, but the more time we spent with them, the more I fell in love with them. Beetle, to me, was the more likeable of the two, but goddamn, Monkey made me incredibly emotional, and I definitely loved what they did with her.
It's through these three characters that Laika are able to tell such a beautiful and poignant story. It's a story of family, adventure and so much more, and it never feels familiar or clichéd. There's so many new and exciting things added to the table that, by the time the credits rolled, I felt strangely blissful. If Laika keeps this up, it's not going to be too long before they're seen on the same level as Studio Ghibli and Pixar. In fact, with four feature films now under their belt, I'm almost tempted to say they've already reached that level.
Few films are made with stop motion nowadays, and that's simply because it's too time consuming, especially when in comparison to 3D animation, and as we've seen in recent years, 3D animation is at the top of its game in terms of the quality of the animation. As a big fan of animated films, I love stop motion. I think it's a wonderful art form, and when a film comes along like Kubo and the Two Strings, I just have to see it. I need to support it. And I'm glad I did, because this is truly some of the most breathtaking stop motion I have ever seen. Laika have stepped their game up for Kubo and the Two Strings, and I loved the visual style of the whole thing.
That being said, this is not a perfect movie. Like previously mentioned, the third act is where most of this film's problems arise. It's not a boring third act, but it's just never as good as it wants to be, nor thinks it is. It tries to do a few too many things, and when the villain starts to reveal themselves and their motive, I just couldn't buy into it. They're built up to be this big threatening figure, but in the end, they failed to live up to the hype, proving to be not nearly as interesting of an antagonist as Rooney Mara's Sisters.
While not on the same level as Coraline and Paranorman, but ranked just above The Boxtrolls, Kubo and the Two Strings is a delightful and adventurous tale that's thematically deep and emotionally investing. The animation is beautiful, the characters are great, and while the finale isn't as great as it thinks it is, I still really enjoyed this movie.
3 1/2 Stars