Great filmmakers and true film lovers are fierce advocates for sharing stories. There is real power and legacy in storytelling, whether we reminisce about loved ones over dinner. Or we read our old favorite picture books to children. And of course we tell everyone we can to go see this movie or that. The great minds at Laika have created the most beautiful piece of animation in years to go with a fantastic story that will enthrall all ages. That’s why I’m telling you, go see Kubo and the Two Strings.
Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) is a one-eyed son of a samurai and a gifted storyteller. From his home in a mountain cave at the edge of the sea, Kubo travels into the village every day with his pack full of paper and his shamisen slung on his back. He tells the stories his mother told him about his late father to a captivated audience as he plays his shamisen. As he plays, a magic within Kubo and his shamisen brings the paper to life, folding it into intricate origami characters that fly and act out the story.
But Kubo never has time to finish his stories. He must be back home before nightfall. His mother has warned him that he must never be out at night, or his grandfather, who stole his eye, would find him. Kubo must also always wear his father’s cloak and carry a small wooden monkey to protect him. We understand why when Kubo accidentally stays out past sundown, is hunted down by his evil aunts and is projected into an epic quest to find his father’s magical armor. On his journey, Kubo’s wooden Monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron) comes to life to help guide him. Along the way he also meets Beetle (voiced by Matthew McConaughey), a giant bug man cursed with no memory, but the instincts of a samurai.
There are so many beautiful, magical and awesome scenes in the film. Every frame is a work of art. My favorite scene (and my son’s too) is when our heroes have to fight The Skeleton Demon to find the Sword Unbreakable. The giant skeleton has dozens of swords stuck in its skull, but only one is the correct one. The skeleton grabs Monkey, swipes at Kubo, who attacks with a swarm of origami birds and Beetle holds on for dear life. The slow, deliberate and menacing way the skeleton moves is like nothing I’ve seen in an animated film, and this baddie’s design is just as unique. It’s a real treat at the end of the film to see the skeleton puppet in raw behind-the-scenes action, towering over its animators.
It can be easy to forget how much intricate, hands-on work goes into stop-motion animated films like Kubo. This film took nearly five years to make, with animators working hard to produce about four seconds of film a week. The perseverance of these animators is astounding, their skills are even more so. Since Laika’s first film, Coraline, I’ve been spellbound and in awe of their work, their intricate puppets and unique visual styles. What they produce is much more daring, risky and sophisticated than most animated films today. And with Kubo, I am once again blown away by their craftsmanship and storytelling. The Oscar season is still far off, but I believe we have a new front runner for Best Animated Feature.
“If you must blink, do it now.”