“Kubo and The Two Strings” Is A Masterpiece In Animation And Storytelling

By Scott Kurland

Film: Kubo and The Two Strings
Starring: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, Brenda Vaccaro, and Matthew McConaughey 
Rated PG
Director: Travis Knight

Laika studios is a bit of an anomaly when it comes producing films. Every film they’ve made is a small masterpiece. But for some reason, they don’t pull in the same numbers as Pixar or Dreamworks at the box office. However, Laika distinguishes itself from Pixar and Dreamworks as each film showcases, in great detail, the unique talents of it's genius craftsmen. Every film is a miniature hand-made feast for your eyes. I have repeatedly gone on the record saying that “ParaNorman” is one of the greatest animated films ever made. Laika’s track record is unbeatable with the aforementioned “ParaNorman”, their debut film “Coraline”, and the zany Terry- Gilliam-esque “The Boxtrolls”. This week’s films is their latest feature: “Kubo and The Two Strings.” Let’s see how spectacular it truly is shall we?

“Kubo and The Two Strings” is the story of Kubo (Art Parkinson), a young  one-eyed Japanese boy gifted with mystical abilities. Sadly, Kubo is in constant danger since his grandfather, the Moon King, (Ralph Fiennes) is searching for him so that he may steal Kubo's remaining eye; leaving him blind to the human world and it's troubles. When Kubo’s aunts "The Sisters" (Rooney Mara) finally discover his whereabouts, he must go on the run. Aided by a a supernatural Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a Samurai Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), Kubo begins his search for the only armor that can protect him. Will this odd trio succeed or die trying?

This is hands down the best film of 2016 so far, and it is further proof that Laika is the hardest working animation studio in the business. Director Travis Knight’s vision is fully formed into a classic Japanese Samurai film with the stop-motion flare that is Laika. The story of Kubo contains all the depth and heart of a Miyazaki film. Music also takes center stage as Laika commonly uses it as a marketing technique. Kubo’s primary mode of defense is a magical Shamisen. So naturally, the song they used in the trailer was “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”  Between you and I, this is one of my favorite songs of all time; right behind “In Your Eyes” and “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.” I was hooked long before the film was even released.

The way Knight paces the film is a cross between a haiku and a ballet of martial arts. I say haiku because the emotional level goes from five seconds of heart to seven seconds of action back to another five seconds of heart. I caught on to this early when I saw the film, and thus began counting in each scene. This may be purely coincidental, but I like to believe the filmmakers knew what they were doing. Another element I loved about this film is the story. I won’t dive too deep into the plot because it’ll give too much away. I will, however, say that it’s a very unique story; one that captures perfectly Japan’s rich culture of honor….and terrible sadness. In short, this is a dark film. 

 When it comes to discussing animated films, I usually talk about a specific voice actor. But in Kubo, there are so many wonderful performances that it would be a shame to isolate just one or two... so I’ll just discuss the majority of them. With that said, the primary leads of Parkinson, Theron, and McConaughey really deliver some wonderful dialog to one another. Theron, is the heart of this film and the twist we discover about her character really packs a hard punch. What can I say about Matthew McConaughey? I mean, this is a guy who went from being a rom-com superstar to a serious actor and still continues to make good choices. 

The performances I loved the most have got to be Ralph Fiennes as the Moon King and Brenda Vaccaro as Kubo’s surrogate grandmother. Vaccaro has been a voice actor for years.  You may know her as Johnny Bravo’s mother Bunny, from “Johnny Bravo”. Her performance in Kubo ties the film together. I mentioned this film feeling like a Miyazaki movie, and Vaccaro is the reason why. Well, her...and the elements of flying (Miyazaki loves his scenes featuring flight and Kubo has plenty of that). In every Miyazaki movie, there’s always a wise elder who plays a father or mother-like figure to the lead. Viccaro is that role to a T.

Fiennes on the other hand, is the classic Miyazaki villain. Not bad, just lost. Ralph Fiennes has always been one of my favorite actors for years. No matter what role he plays, Fiennes always develops a code of ethics for his characters. Whether he’s a Nazi taunting Oskar Schindler or a pompous hotel concierge - the man has principles. The Moon King is no different. He believes he’s doing the right thing and sticks to his guns. At the same time, he’s incredibly charming and endearing. That’s why he’s such a great actor. We’re supposed to fear him, but we can’t because he’s so damn charismatic. 

“Kubo and The Two Strings” is not  only visually beautiful and eye catching, it’s truly a  pitch-perfect film. I love Laika, because they don’t make films for children. Granted, they are marketed for children, but their films are dark and deal with more adult matters. “Coraline” dealt with teenage rebellion and familial differences. “ParaNorman” handled individuality and being an outcast. “The Boxtrolls” handled adoption and social class. Now “Kubo and The Two String” tackles domestic abuse and the extremes a family will go through to protect their child from toxic individuals. Yes, these are all dark themes, but the heart of Laika is family and the various forms that word can take in the real world.

“Kubo and The Two Strings” is a must see film. Whether it’s the great performances, the fantastic handmade visuals, or the beautiful family drama at it's core.... this is a film needs to be seen. I know a lot of parents are going to be compelled to take their little ones to see this, but don’t. Unless they’re over the age of six, don’t go. You might be able to take a five year old, but anyone younger than four will be terrified by all the fighting. It gets pretty dark, but as I said before, this is the best film of 2016 so far. I implore you to see this film, because it will help ensure Laika’s future in the world of film.

scott kurlandComment