I review Laika’s latest magical film… better late than never I suppose
Animation studio Laika made a big impression with its first feature Coraline in 2009 – a creepy and dark film that brought Neil Gaiman’s book to life. Paranorman and Boxtrolls followed, and although none of them have set the box office alight, they are three unique films that go beyond anything else in the marketplace. Kubo and the Two Strings is their latest film, and has the biggest name cast so far, with Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, and Rooney Mara taking the significant roles alongside Art Parkinson (Rickon Stark in Game Of Thrones) in the lead.
Parkinson voices Kubo, a young boy who lives in a mountaintop cave with Sariatu, his mother. She sits alone all day while Kubo goes to the village to earn a living, which he does by telling stories with his shamisen (a three stringed instrument) and magic origami paper that forms moving figures. He tells the story of Hanzo, Kubo’s dead father who was a brave warrior, and every evening he goes home to be with his mother before the sun goes down. As the sun sets, his mother briefly becomes lucid again, and tells Kubo stories of his father that he repeats to the villagers the next day.
One day there is a festival where the villagers talk to their dead relatives. Kubo tries to talk to his father, but with no-one to show him how to do the ceremony properly, he gets frustrated and loses track of time. He stays out after dark, which allows the spirit of his mother’s sisters to track him down. They destroy the village before Sariatu stops them. His mother fights them off with one last burst of energy, and uses her magic to send Kubo to safety, telling him to find his father’s armour, before being killed by her sisters.
When Kubo awakes, his lucky monkey figurine – now called Monkey and voiced by Charlize Theron – has come to life, as has a piece of his origami paper, which is now a miniature soldier called Little Hanzo. Little Hanzo points the way for the group to go, and they soon meet Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) a man who has been turned into a beetle (you had guessed that already, right?) who has no memories beyond vague recollections of being Hanzo’s apprentice as a samurai. Together Kubo, Beetle, Monkey, and Little Hanzo travel to find the three pieces of armour that will allow Kubo to protect himself from his mother’s sisters and father. But what lengths will Kubo’s family go to to stop him? And how much is Kubo willing to give up to fulfill his destiny?
Kubo and the Two Strings is a beautiful, magical, special film. The vocal performances are great across the board, and the animation is simply stunning. The story isn’t spoon fed to the viewers – the background to Kubo’s family, Monkey, and Beetle are all revealed at the film’s own pace. There are also a couple of genuinely scary moments in the film, the sisters introduction stayed with this particular Usher, and the Garden of Eyes is legit nightmare fuel. Plus some very well placed pieces of comedy lighten the mood nicely as well.
Kubo and the Two Strings is a kids film that doesn’t talk down to its audience, and doesn’t shy away from the scary, creepy, upsetting parts of the story. If it wasn’t for the excellent Anomalisa this would be my favourite animated film of the year. As it is, it’s going into my Top 10 animated film easily. If you can still find a screening, go and watch it in the cinema on a big screen, then buy the Blu Ray.
Kubo and the Two Strings is still in cinemas now, and will be on DVD and Blu Ray soon.
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
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