Stop motion has always been heralded as one of the most impressive and visually stunning forms of animation — if done right. Stop motion animation studio Laika Entertainment has met and surpassed expectations with “Kubo and the Two Strings,” a film that holds its own as a breathtaking and mesmerizing work of art.
“Kubo and the Two Strings” tells the tale of Kubo (Art Parkinson, “Game of Thrones”), a young boy who embarks on a quest to reunite the three pieces of his late father’s magical armor to protect himself and his family from the wrath of a vengeful spirit. Kubo possesses the unique and effective power to create movement and energy through the strum of his shamisen, a Japanese guitar. The film’s big-name cast of characters includes Monkey (Charlize Theron, “Mad Max: Fury Road”), Beetle (Matthew McConaughey, “Interstellar”), the Sisters (Rooney Mara, “Carol”), and the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”). The character dynamics are entertaining and complicated, with enough intrigue to keep a viewer engaged. Furthermore, familial ties intertwine the characters in a complex web; Kubo’s immortal enemies are his grandfather and two aunts and his animal hybrid companions turn out to be his parents, kept alive by magic. Through plot twists and an emphasis on loyalty, “Kubo” stresses the importance of family and love in a genuine and subtle fashion.
Another central theme in the film is the art of storytelling. Kubo is introduced in a scene of him captivating a crowd in his village with tales of samurai adventure and danger, defining him as a master of the spoken word. However, the movie also shifts from utilizing storytelling in the traditional sense to instead offering it as a flexible and powerful ability. Storytelling becomes a force that highlights the importance of forgiveness and the malleability of someone’s history, as well as how their past shapes their character. “Kubo and the Two Strings” masterfully retools the traditional art of storytelling to shape lives, rather than merely entertain.
The film’s central distinctive feature is its absolutely incredible animation. Here we see the directorial debut and best effort yet of Travis Knight, esteemed lead animator of the cinematic classics “Coraline” and “ParaNorman.” Knight has really outdone himself this time, stunning with an overwhelming attention to detail in both color and movement. To throw out some choice adjectives, the film’s animation is dynamic, inventive and captivating, with Kubo’s world artfully constructed. The film’s central aesthetic motif revolves around the Japanese art of origami, with gorgeous landscape shots and scenery that look and move like folded paper. Further, the genius of the movie lies in the way Kubo manipulates origami to create moving objects that appear alive, meshing with the paper-esque world around him. The film’s end battle scene, in which the Moon King takes the form of a massive koi fish, is one of the most stunning works of animation to hit the screen.
“Kubo” is a beautiful homage to Japanese culture and mythology, drawing on classic themes and aesthetics to create a captivating story. Both simple and nuanced in plot and design, the film is an emotional, immersive experience that leaves the viewer warm and in awe.