Director: Travis Knight
Cast: ￼Art Parkinson, Matthew McConaughey, Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brenda Vaccaro
Runtime: 1 hr 43 mins
Released By: UIP
Official Website: http://kubothemovie.com
Opening Day: 8 September 2016
Synopsis: "Kubo and the Two Strings" is an epic action-adventure set in a fantastical Japan from acclaimed animation studio LAIKA. Clever, kindhearted Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson of "Game of Thrones") ekes out a humble living, telling stories to the people of his seaside town including Hosato (George Takei), Hashi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and Kamekichi (Academy Award nominee Brenda Vaccaro). But his relatively quiet existence is shattered when he accidentally summons a spirit from his past which storms down from the heavens to enforce an age-old vendetta. Now on the run, Kubo joins forces with Monkey (Academy Award winner Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey), and sets out on a thrilling quest to save his family and solve the mystery of his fallen father, the greatest samurai warrior the world has ever known.
With the help of his shamisen - a magical musical instrument - Kubo must battle gods and monsters, including the vengeful Moon King (Academy Award nominee Ralph Fiennes) and the evil twin Sisters (Academy Award nominee Rooney Mara) to unlock the secret of his legacy, reunite his family and fulfill his heroic destiny.
One of the most (if not the only) established names in stop-motion animation, Laika Entertainment has never failed to astound audiences with its modern take on the classic technique. And with Kubo and The Two Strings, Laika further burnishes its track record by creating a movie that is unlike anything else that we see produced in animation today.
Laika’s CEO Travis Knight helms the director seat as he makes the move from animator and his strength in animation clearly shines through this technical masterpiece. Kubo opens with a breath-taking water sequence that will shatter whatever perceived limits you think stop motion animation would have, And similarly, the battle sequences are jaw-dropping, full of swift action yet executed within shots so finely sequenced that you are able to see every single detail and be caught up in the action, pausing just enough for you to catch your breath even as you are immediately enthralled by the beauty of it all.
That is how amazing the animation (or perhaps wizardy is a more appropriate word) is. Once you realise how this is achieved through intricate stop-motion animation, the amazement that hits you increases ten-fold.
The whole concept of magic is taken at face value throughout this movie – whether it is the magic behind the creation of these beautiful sequences or the way magic manifests and unfolds itself in the movie (there is never a real explanation as to why the protagonist Kubo has the ability to be able to create things on a whim with his shamisen). Logic is suspended not just with the animation but in Kubo’s entire story universe.
Perhaps Laika realises its strength lies in animation for it chose to go with a simple story. A young boy who lost both parents at a tender age, goes on a journey to seek the items that will grant him protection from the evil enemies who caused his parents’ deaths. He is accompanied by two non-human companions who serve as his guardians of sorts. Of course, there are a few twists to this simple plot such as the fact that enemies happen to be his maternal grandfather and aunts who really think that hunting him down and killing his parents is actually good for the boy (like I said, the logic is suspended in this movie).
There are moving and tender moments such as when Kubo strives to take care of his mother who is inflicted by some strange illness that renders her to be in a vegetative state when the sun is up but ‘comes alive’ albeit with some memory loss or when his mother crawls to protect him as a baby boy even though she is clearly badly injured. The nods to familiar family moments, such as when Kubo’s guardians Monkey and Beetle fight over differing ‘parenting’ style, also lighten this otherwise rather serious movie. Monkey and Beetle are clear counterfoils with the former being the stern serious one and the latter being the somewhat nonsensical yet well-meaning one who brings about light-hearted banter that will entertain the children in the cinema.
However, the characters are not fleshed out to their maximum potential. Despite his rather complicated backstory, Kubo is very much unconflicted and takes the death of his sole living parent quite well in his stride with no internal turmoil whatsoever (that is one extremely resilient kid). Ironically, it becomes hard to feel emotionally attached to the protagonist because of his perceived detachment to the people around him. Instead, the maternal nature of Monkey and the unconditional love that Kubo’s mother has for him makes them characters that leave a much deeper impression on you. Beetle’s whimsical and forgetful nature also makes him more distinctive than the protagonist.
Thankfully, this short piece with a simple story survives with a somewhat flat yet likeable protagonist and the pushing of a classic technique to new and greater heights make this movie one of the most beautiful movies of the year and definitely one worth watching.
(Although touted as a family movie, Kubo and the Two Strings has more to offer adults than children and is definitely worth a watch whether you have children or not)
Review by Katrina Tee