Going against the typical norm of rival animation companies Pixar, Disney and Dreamworks, Laika’s offerings tend to divulge into darker territory, encapsulating a dreamlike status through extraordinarily eye-capturing 3D stop-motion animation. Stop-motion isn’t new; the form spans decades down the line, giving us popular films like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Chicken Run and James and the Giant Peach, and even this year we’ve had offerings from Charlie Kaufman himself in the acclaimed Anomalisa.
Laika, however, have identified something special indeed. Hiding these animations for adults in the usual kid-friendly form, both Coraline and ParaNorman were delightfully nightmarish as much as they were overwhelmingly heartwarming, with enticing visuals and set pieces to entertain all ages. Kubo and the Two Strings is that and then some.
A young boy named Kubo (Art Parkinson) takes care of his mother, Sariatu (Charlize Theron), amidst traveling from his home situated at the top of a mountain to traveling to the nearby town to tell stories of great warriors, mystical beings, monsters and magic, told through playing his shamisen that magically manipulates pieces of paper to form origami story pieces. When his stories begin to form reality, Kubo must partner with Monkey and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) to find an impenetrable armour and an unbreakable sword to defeat two twin witch sisters (Rooney Mara) and their father, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), the villainous ruler who once stole Kubo’s eye and is in search to complete the collection.
Laika CEO and first time director Travis Knight directs one of this year’s most original and exciting films. Set in ancient Japan, Shannon Tindle and Marc Haimes’ innovative and highly creative story sets off a series of absolute wonderment as an opening scene pits woman against enormous wave, establishing a foreground for spectacular mythology and a genuine explosion of colour, wit and gorgeous voice work from some of Hollywood’s most sought after. Soon after, imagination runs wild as paper becomes animated object as Kubo, fitted with a gloriously uplifting score by Dario Marionelli, flees his home on wings, creates a dazzling boat made from leaves, battles enemies and frighteningly rendered foes with porcelain masks, and along the way creates poignant and infinitely moving companionship with others.
Laika’s leap forward in regards to animating technical achievements is unwavering, and serves as a large difference to the likes of Pixar’s heavily acclaimed projects. The film is induced with staggering care, culminating in something unimaginably beautiful and immensely rich in design and ultimately feels unparalleled in its efforts to create something worthwhile for families who may be in need for something a little less safe.
Folklore is blended seamlessly with such artistic flair, but an emotional resonance is heavy handed come characters that are lovingly created and furthered more by such talent bringing them to life. This fantastical adventure never wavers in giving us the highest quality in which film should always offer, and steeped in such rich Japanese history almost feels like Kubo and friends could supply its target audience with something more visually challenging and genuinely enriching.
Much like Kubo’s first line, “If you must blink then do it now”, Kubo and the Two Strings is absolutely not to be missed. Mystical, mythical, magical and all of the above, this is one of the finest animations of the decade, Laika’s personal best and absolutely one of 2016’s must see films. This is truly a treat.
Dir: Travis Knight
Scr: Marc Haimes, Chris Butler
Cast: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes
Prd: Travis Knight, Arianne Sutner
Music: Dario Marionelli
DOP: Frank Passingham
Runtime: 101 minutes