MovieBob Reviews Kubo and The Two Strings

first_imgKubo and The Two Strings is a movie I was actually a little bit apprehensive about. Not because I didn’t think it’d be good – even if I wasn’t totally in love with Box Trolls, Laika Animation is pretty much batting a thousand at this point – and I’m the sort of movie fan who’d watch a documentary about elephant dung cleanup if you stuck the words “MAGICAL SAMURAI ARMOR” somewhere in there.But sometimes you can see the something straining to not just be good but to be applauded for the stature of those aspirations, and that can be a little off-putting. And let’s face it: Nothing sends Western animation producers into unintended cringe mode more reliably than tackling Eastern mythology. The spectacle of a studio that openly fancies itself to be the “artisanal Pixar” doing their best Studio Ghibli impression absolutely had the potential to bring out that innate inferiority complex that manifests as an overcompensating urge to prove that one WAS, in fact, “way into” anime before Dragon Ball Z launched stateside.What an immense joy to discover then that Kubo and The Two Strings is one of the sharpest little movies of 2016 and (easily) the best animated offering of the entire summer – And not just because the only competition was a talking-fish sequel and a movie about sexually adventurous groceries; because I liked both of those. But Kubo is absolutely something special, a combination of the sort of delicate character-driven art piece that Laika (the spiritual-successor to the legendary Will Vinton studios) has always thrived on and a deceptively simple hero’s journey with enough big action and sly humor to potentially gift the critically hailed studio its first out-and-out blockbuster.Is it as good as previous high water mark Paranorman? Well, no, but few things are. But it’s definitely the best Laika has pulled off otherwise since bursting onto the scene with Coraline, proving that these people know their stuff and can deliver even if you’re not 100% enthralled with their “Whole Foods to Disney’s 7/11” self-image (let’s face it, this is the one production house in Hollywood for whom setting a kid’s movie to a George Harrison song covered by Regina Spektor isn’t a surprising decision.) Quality is quality.An original story borrowed copiously from a grab bag of Japanese folklore influences, Kubo is about a kid with an eyepatch living in a remote feudal Japanese fishing village who uses his magical ability to bring origami creatures to life (there’s a fun joke about whether this actually “counts” as origami in the proper sense) with his guitar to support his similarly magical but injured and increasingly distant mother as a street performer. He entertains villagers with epic stories he’s unable to finish because his mother has forbidden him from staying out past sunset – a rule whose purpose becomes clear when he breaks it and finds himself set upon by demonic beings of godlike power who want to steal his remaining eye. Rescued by his mother’s intervention, Kubo is dispatched to find means of protecting himself by reuniting a set of magical armor bequeathed to him by his father, a legendary Samurai warrior said to have died defending him. Eventually joined by powerful allies in the form of Charlize Theron as Monkey and Matthew McConaughey’s half-insect warrior Beetle, he sets out to find the treasures and destroy his enemies.Not precisely the most original storyline on the planet, to be sure – in fact, from a certain perspective it’s basically an unofficial Legend of Zelda movie – but the story isn’t really the point. The point here is to savor the intricately animated action sequences and to drink in the potent mood of the piece, which brings a kinetic edge to Laika’s signature detail-heavy, slightly melancholy production design (in that respect, it’s probably the best Zelda movie anyone is going to make anytime soon). Where flaws exist is indeed on the narrative side, in as much as a pair of twists involving Monkey and Beetle are a bit too easy to guess and Act 3 relies a bit much on those fantasy quest scenarios where people suddenly grasp arbitrary rules of magic because the plot needs them to. Minor quibbles, though, and worth it to savor great vocal turns like Theron’s stoic badass Monkey, Rooney Mara as a pair of twin henchwomen who’ll be a big hit on the cosplay circuit, and Ralph Fiennes as a surprisingly sinister villain.Besides, the reason to watch Laika movies is to ogle the production design (which, as ever, is simply stunning here) and to marvel at the incredibly detailed stop-motion animation. As with previous features, the meticulously constructed models and astonishing 3D-printed facial expressions make little attempt to hide their handcrafted, artificial origins; which turns even the subtlest scene into a jaws dropping spectacle of sheer human effort – whether we’re staring slack-jawed at the superhuman effort that must have gone into making strands of hair and billowing robes move realistically or thrilling to fight scenes as intricately choreographed as anything in the live-action or anime canon. One showstopper in particular is said to involve the largest individual stop-motion puppet ever animated; and there’s a traditional Laika “how we pulled THAT off” mid-credits demonstration that made me gasp out loud – and will likely be the origin-story for an entire generation of future animators.Yes, fine; a stop-motion Miyazaki riff was going to be gushed over by animation snobs no matter what, but much like the (otherwise utterly different) Sausage Party you can believe the hype. Kubo and The Two Strings is one of the year’s best films – a miniature masterpiece you MUST experience in theaters.***1/2 (3.5 out of 4 stars)last_img