Kubo and the Two Strings: A Feast for the Senses
Review by Jen Rush – 4.5/5 buckets of popcorn
I will be the first to admit it: I have a soft spot for whimsy. Most things Johnny Depp or Tim Burton will tickle my fancy. While neither of these people were associated with it, Kubo and the Two Strings is swimming in whimsy and magic. The incredibly skilled team at LAIKA bring a richly styled stop-motion adventure sprinkled with emotion and gentle humor. The film is a little slow to start, as we are introduced to Kubo (Art Parkinson) and his Mother, who have escaped an unknown terror and now live a modest life in Japan where Kubo tells stories to villagers for coins, including Hosato (George Takei). He uses his magic shamisen (a musical instrument) to bring origami pieces to life to help tell his story. His life is quickly changed when he accidentally summons a spirit from his past with a vendetta to fulfill. Using magic of her own, Kubo’s mother saves him and unites him with Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) and sends them on an adventure to save his family and solve the mystery of his fallen father. Despite a few strong, but vague overtones of family values and good triumphing over evil, the story line is strong and engaging.
Kubo is brought to us by the creators of Coraline, Paranorman, Boxtrolls and Corpse Bride. It’s therefore no great surprise that there are some dark themes and perhaps frightening images throughout the film. However, say that the people at LAIKA are skilled might be an understatement. I can’t think of the last time I was so enchanted with the animation styling of any movie. Using a combination of low lighting and beautiful warm tones, the visuals were beyond dazzling. The brilliant direction of Travis Knight (Boxtrolls, Paranorman) played a strong role here.
The voice acting of the star-studded cast only added to the magic. The mean, misophonic Monkey and the tender but goofy Beetle steal the show in several scenes. The combination of subtle facial expression and voicing bring these characters to life far beyond my expectations.
I’m not sure if it’s too soon to be making Oscar predictions, but I can’t imagine a better animated film will come out this year. It is warm, enchanting and a beautiful story that has delighted me beyond belief. Some small children might be upset by the dark themes or imagery, but all the children leaving my screening seemed to love it as much as I did.