A year of stellar animation continues with Laika’s most recent (and arguably best) effort.
Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) is an animated adventure film by Laika studios and directed by Travis Knight. It stars Art Parkinson as Kubo, a young boy forced to go on a quest with the grumpy Monkey (Charlize Theron) and the goofy Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) to rebuild a mystical suit of armour in order to combat a mysterious threat from his family’s past.
After Zootopia, Kung Fu Panda 3 and Finding Dory I feel like a broken record, but here’s another absolutely stunning animated film. Unlike those three, Kubo uses Laika’s distinct CGI/stop-motion hybrid approach that gives the film both a distinct and strikingly artistic appearance. From one frame to the next Kubo is a moving painting that trumps the efforts of every single other animated film so far this year. It has such a distinct sense of style and imagination that even Kung Fu Panda can scarcely come close to in terms of visual wonder. I would happily frame hundreds of different shots from this film up on my wall – its that impressive.
The story itself opens up on an emotional gut punch of a scene and barely lets up through most of the first act. The world building Laika have implemented to create this Japanese/fantasy setting is wonderfully interwoven through the opening 20 minutes of the film itself. However, after the true quest begins the movie does unfortunately begin to dip into predictable storytelling conventions. At its core, Kubo is a standard heroes journey that has been done to oblivion, and while that wonderful opening act and a number of gutsy storytelling decisions by Laika ensures several wrinkles are added to the structure, it ultimately cannot escape its stock-standard roots. Look for a piece of the armour, fight something, discover something about his past and repeat through the vast majority of acts two and three. That’s not to say that the story is bad – it just doesn’t go to the imaginative and unique places that this film promises. Not bad, just somewhat disappointing.
Art Parkinson, at the core of this movie, does a stellar job as the young but talented Kubo. He adds just the right childhood whimsy and mischief you expect while also delivering on the emotional moments whenever needed. The rest of the supporting cast is mostly up to his standard also. Charlize Theron delivers an excellent performance as Kubo’s companion Monkey. She’s a relatively humourless character, but one that provides the right kind of dynamic for the wilful Kubo to play off with. Matthew McConaughey’s Beetle however is a bit of a miss. He’s written very clearly as a comic relief character, but his delivery never escapes the dullness of his one-liners and writing. While he does have an amusing dynamic with Theron’s Monkey, he’s more of an annoyance than anything else.
So while Kubo may struggle with the obstacles of standard storytelling structure and a missed comic-relief character, it ultimately still has a gorgeous art style and emotional core to fall back on. Yet another reason for Laika to be heralded as one of the best animation studios working today, and a promising effort for all their films to come.
General Audiences: Highly Recommended
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended
Kids: Highly Recommended
Winner of the 2016 Batsie award for Catwalk.