Kubo (Art Parkinson) lives a quiet solitary life in a small village, until a spirit from the past changes his life forver, reigniting the embers of an age-old vendetta within his family. This causes all sort of issues for him, as he is chased by monsters, having weird dreams while talking with immortal beings. In order to survive, he must locate a suit of armour that was once owned by his late father, a great Samurai warrior. The quirky animators from Laika Studios (Coraline) have been busy of late with the construction of kid’s animated movies. Their latest venture looks to East Asia, depicting a story about a boy on his quest to unwind his twist genealogy.
This film avoids clunky set pieces and allows the creatives to explore a world in its infinite glory, without being interrupted by studios. This film is a prime example of what creatives can achieve when they’re not disturbed by of money gluttoned studios. In conjunction to this being a quest, it’s about a kid who discovers that he has mad “Merlin-level” magical abilities. After uncovering the root of his mother’s frantic worries about staying out after sunset , he sets out on an adventure with Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) to find his father’s suit of armour.
Laika has a track record of making dark animations, and this latest one is no different. It’s their darkest one to date, making Coraline look like a feel-good Disney animation. Kubo And The Two Stings is quite dark due to the many horror elements with the main antagonist, played the great and talented Rooney Mara (Carol) as The Sisters. The film engages audiences of all ages by combining horror and humour with love and inspiration, amidst the cynical and honest ideologies of Charlize Theron’s Monkey and clownish antics of McConaughey’s over the top Beetle. These themes are flying parallel to fantastical mad spirits, sea demons and angry relatives.
If this story was done with the Disney style of animation, I reckon it would be perceived as tacky and droll. But stop motion adds a necessary layer of mysticism. Plus you can’t make a dark kid’s movie with that animation. Stop motion was the only way to do this, and they hit it out of the ballpark. This is a good story, and I think a sequel is not completely out of the question. There’s something very satisfying about watching stop motion animation. Watching the characters move while day turns into night makes you feel warm inside. I found watching what you take for granted in a Disney/Pixar or Dreamworks animation, very therapeutic in films like Coraline, Boxtrolls and now Kubo And The Two Strings.
When The Sisters (Rooney Mara) first enter the film, I felt a sudden chill of sadness enter the room and a great chill fear shoot down my spine. She completely owned the role, accompanied by Ralph Fiennes (Skyfall) as the villainous Grandfather AKA The Moon King. But Rooney Mara (Carol) is my favourite thing about this movie. Never have I been so scared of a villain in a kid’s animated movie. That goes from the chilling voice performance and sensationally spooky visuals made by the creatives. I’d say to parents, take your children at your own risk. Some kids will love it and others will start crying in some scenes from the horror elements. One look at The Sisters will make some kids want to run the other way. This movie will be more appreciated for those aged eleven and over. The Sisters are like the quirky characters in Return To Oz but with a Tim Burton edge to them.
Regardless of the peril and horror, this is an adventure set in an alternative fantasy Japan consisting of strong important themes like courage and teamwork. In the thick of it, it’s a story about family in a mother and son relationship that spans from reality into the world of fantasy, but it’s the rites of passage ventures of a young storyteller too. What I liked the best was Kubo’s two stringed guitar as he uses it to animate his characters in a form of origami and in the final boss battle. It felt very Scott Pilgrim to me. An average summer of film has just ended, but Kubo And The Two Strings has started the autumn season on a positive note.
Overall, this is a wonderful movie filled with awesome voice performances from the A-list ensemble cast including George Takei in support. The animation, was literally out of this world and I loved the story; including the darkness and peril but the important themes like: humanity, honour, morality, history, family and the will to do good. I don’t have a single complaint about this film and I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets a couple of nods come Oscar season.