Laika Entertainment has done some really great animation including Para-Norman, The Boxtrolls and Coraline. Kubo and the Two Strings joins this impressive list.
Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young boy whose mother is in a haze and whose father is gone. Kubo makes money by going to the town square and telling stories, playing his guitar, and making magic.
Yes, Kubo has magical abilities that make paper fly around him and form objects, much like origami, when he plays his instrument. Kubo tells stories of his father’s heroic adventures, but the young boy can never end them.
One of the reasons he cannot is because his mother has told him that he must never be out past dark because his grandfather Moon King and his evil daughters would find Kubo and take his other eye. Of course, Kubo winds up out one night and one of his aunts did indeed attack him, killing his mother in the process. With her last bit of magical power, Kubo’s mother brings to life a monkey idol Kubo carried and entrusted Monkey (Charlize Theron) with her son’s protection.
They decide to set off for the armor that Kubo’s father had searched for, in order to stop the Moon King. Along the way, they meet up with Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) who is a dedicated samurai, albeit a beetle, to Kubo’s father.
The best part of this film is easily the animation. The stop-motion animation that Laika typically employs in their films is never better than here. It is a masterful achievement in visuals, character design, imagery and creativity. The dedication and intricate work that has gone into this film is apparent in the final version and the loving work cannot be underestimated. It is an artistic feat unlike any animation for the year.
The story has its share of surprising moments, but the narrative itself is a little lackluster. There are some moments where it moves too slowly and I do not think younger kids will appreciate it as much as they will some other animated films this year.
There is a really nice connection between Kubo, Monkey and Beetle at the heart of the film. The scenes with these characters are the cleverest and most entertaining of the film. That comes from both the character traits and excellent voice work. You never hear McConaughey and Theron in these characters. They are simply Monkey and Beetle. That is a credit to these two powerhouse actors.
The hero’s journey is in full display here as we follow along with Kubo discovering what he is capable of doing with his magic. Add to that breath taking animation, and Kubo and the Two Strings delivers a beautiful and emotional epic in animation.