Director: Travis Knight
Cast: Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara
Review Author: Tony
Rating: 4.25 / 5
Stop motion has been a dying art for some time now and it’s hard not to see why as films now rely on newer and dare I say cost effective digital and practical effects. For better or for worse, CGI dominates the movie industry as the go-to special effect, however go back thirty years and special effects were a completely different industry. Stop motion has a long and rich history in film with the first instances of the effect being used as far back as The Humpty Dumpty Circus in 1898, and right up to the late 1980’s was the most prominent special effect in cinema. Of course the industry evolved and the uses for stop motion became scarce as the toy looking dinosaurs of the 60’s and 70’s were suddenly laughable compared to Spielberg’s digital dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.
Laika has taken it among themselves to keep the tradition of this animation running basing their studio’s pictures solely on this animation style. I recently saw behind the scenes footage of Kubo and the Two Strings which showed the craftsmanship and talent which goes into every frame of the film. It left me astounded and instantly this film was at the top of my priority list. I must confess that the only other Laika film I’ve seen is Coraline (2009) which I found to be a very creative and engaging film in its own right, but I really need to get my ass in gear and see the rest of their films.
Kubo and the two Strings is set in a magical world similar to Feudal Japan. Kubo is a young storyteller with magical abilities he channels through his guitar, or lute thingy majiggy, as he entertains the local villagers with tales of good versus evil through living origami. These stories help Kubo support his sick mother whose condition improves for brief periods at night. During these touching and somber moments we see the inspirations for Kubo’s stories, however, his mother warns him never to leave their cave at sundown. Of course, Kubo ignores these warnings eventually, because fuck parents and their rules, and soon finds himself on a magical quest similar to his stories.
I’m pretty sure every other review for this film under the sun has praised the visuals and rightfully so. I found the film to be stunning. While Coraline and ParaNorman (2012) have a very similar visual style to the cult classic, Nightmare before Christmas, Kubo and the Two Strings utilizes it’s Japanese-inspired setting beautifully with lush colours and elegant scenery. The animation has a living origami look to it and some of the most impressive stop motion I’ve witnessed.
While mainly geared for children, Kubo will mostly be enjoyed by adults as the film never becomes childish or silly Instead it has a whimsical vibe which caters to both sides of the spectrum. Laika gives a lot of credit to their audience by throwing us straight into this world of magic and Gods without ever having to bog itself down in exposition. While the film has its fair share of light moments it also has some pretty terrifying sequences ripped straight out of Japanese myth. These scenes craft an overwhelming sense of dread as the animation takes a dark and ominous turn. Headed by a strong voice cast with the talent ranging from Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey and Ireland’s own Art Parkinson, I grew attached to these characters almost instantly.
Unfortunately Laika’s films have not appeared to click with wider audiences as Kubo had a rather poor box office run. It’s been a common trend for their films which are critically praised but perform poorly financially. I’m not going to blame anyone as I’m just as guilty of missing the film at release but its shame considering the quality of the film. Instead Laika have found more of a cult following which harkens back to The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Perhaps one of my biggest regrets this year is missing this gem of a film on its initial release and not witnessing its visuals on a larger screen. Laika has endowed upon me a sense of wonder and adventure I have not felt since my childhood. I’m making it my mission to recommend this film to anyone who’ll listen to me.