From their cult classic Coraline to the well-loved ParaNorman, stop-motion animation studio Laika Entertainment is known and loved for their quirky and, at times, creepy animation style, and their ability to tell coming of age stories that resonate deeply with an audience that’s quite spoiled for choice when it comes to animated films these days. They may not be quite as big as Disney and Pixar (yet), but they can still spin a story with the best of them.
Laika’s latest film, Kubo and the Two Strings, is set in a fantastical ancient Japan, where a young boy named Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) with mystical powers must find a magical suit of armour and finish his father’s quest. Accompanied by the mysterious Monkey (Charlize Theron) and the lovable Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), Kubo is a stunning fairy-tale of family and destiny.
The creativity and originality behind Kubo’s lore is extraordinary: Kubo is a storyteller, and with his magical shamisen (the traditional Japanese three-stringed lute) and a stack of origami paper, he tells the story of his father’s quest, a story even he doesn’t know in its entirety. And as he sets off on his own quest and uncovers the secrets to his own past, a graceful tale unfolds before us, equal parts funny and tragic, whimsically upbeat, yet with Laika’s signature touch of horror that makes their stories so rich. Kubo’s story is so simple, yet so intricately told, with so many twists and little details, that the audience feels every emotion stir deep within them.
Such a beautiful story is complemented by even more beautiful animation: Kubo’s stop-motion animation is breathtaking, from the grand mountainous landscapes to the intricacy of our characters. Laika’s stop motion has the effect of seeming unbelievably real, more so than CGI, and this authenticity led to many goosebumps during the most beautiful scenes, of which there are many. Such brilliant animation is accompanied by an equally moving soundtrack from Dario Marianelli and Regina Spektor, heavily featuring the story’s shamisen, as well as a wonderfully quirky rendition of While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
The talented voice cast adds another layer of depth to the characters, giving us that rare moment where an actor not only voices a character, but shapes their character almost entirely through the voice. As Kubo, Art Parkinson is mischievous and playful, yet deeply caring for his mother; Matthew McConaughey’s Beetle is cocky yet cool, not unlike the man himself. Ralph Fiennes lends his intimidating and commanding voice to the Moon King (a role similar to ones he’s played before, yet it doesn’t seem hackneyed), and he is in good company with Rooney Mara’s spine-chilling Sisters, with their pointed black hats and porcelain masks. But Charlize Theron’s Monkey was the stand out: she imbued Kubo’s protector with so much power and loyalty, and love, and, though a monkey, she is a wonderful role model to look up to.
Luckily, it is not so rare these days that an animated film gets it so right; as an audience, we are fortunate that animation studios have struck the balance between adult and children’s entertainment. Kubo and the Two Strings owes much to this, yet contributes so much more: it is an enchanting, original fairy-tale, with hearty light moments, beautiful tragedy, and haunting horror, materialised in the most stunning animation. Kubo and the Two Strings makes you feel every emotion deep within you, making it one of the best films of the year.
With such a high profile cast doing wonderful voice work on Kubo, here’s my top 5 movies starring the cast of Kubo and the Two Strings:
- Game of Thrones – Art Parkinson
- Mad Max: Fury Road – Charlize Theron
- Tropic Thunder – Matthew McConaughey
- Harry Potter 7 Part 2 – Ralph Fiennes
- The Social Network – Rooney Mara
Photos taken from IMDb.com: