Directed by: Travis Knight
Produced by: Travis Knight Arianne Sutner
Screenplay by: Marc Haimes Chris Butler
Original story by: Shannon Tindle Marc Haimes
Starring: Charlize Theron. Art Parkinson. Ralph Fiennes. Rooney Mara. George Takei. Matthew McConaughey
Running Time: 102 minutes
Laika studios cannot be ignored, with each film they thrust they talents and skills directly into the minds of the audience like pleasant voodoo pins. Their adaptation of Coraline simply one of the best adaptations ever made, ParaNorman a surprisingly heartfelt and genuinely funny outing and while Boxtrolls lacked some of the storytelling we were used to the world and design was still memorable. Their latest venture of Kubo And The Two Strings had more pressure piled on it than if CM Punk followed his next fight by hosting Channel 4’s newly acquired Great British Bake Off. The personal investment surely a jumbo sized weight on the mind of the creators also, as this film is thought to have taken them five years and every 5 seconds of film taking around a weeks work. So was it worth the effort or should the stop animators, simply stop?
This story of this film finds Kubo (Parkinson) living in a cave with his Mum, a cave perched on the most perilous cliff edge known to man and maybe not the best place to raise a wandering toddler. Yet this is merely a cliff note…cliff…i’m sorry. Kubo has the ability to control objects and the air using his music and spins tales to nearby villagers to sustain his mother, who lapses in and out of a catatonic state like the ebbing tides that brought them there. They are sought after by Kubo’s fabled Grandfather the Moon King who previously took his eye and seeks to gain the other. After a tragic attack Kubo ventures out to find the legendary armour that can protect him, accompanied by Monkey (Theron) and Beetle (McConaughey) and hounded by his vicious Aunts (Mara).
Predictably the animation is vibrant and glorious like the most blessed childhood dream. Which from Laika is like saying water was discovered to be a tad damp. This shouldn’t be overlooked though as the vastness and the complexity of the world’s design is masterfully oven into the fabric of your imagination. You accept and enjoy every grain of scenery and soak up each artistic wave of colour. From statue strewn deserts to the eerily enclosing under sea traps the settings condemn you instantly to feeling involved. Facial expressions are breathtaking and convey enormous amounts of emotion vital to subtle storytelling and making a lasso out of your heart strings with which to capture your imagination. The music flows from dainty to damning like a swirling stream of theatre. The musical score framing each shot and page of this tale with discreet care, the frantic playful sounds of Kubo’s strings are especially en-capturing and live up their place in the title.
The story. The sometimes, sweet and yet often sickly jam in our cinema sandwich. In so many movies story and the telling of it are swapped out for big name stars, special effects or stylish surroundings. Even the selling power of the characters of toys used as a flimsy twig crutch in many films, yes i’m looking at you Minions….looking and weeping gently. Speaking of which the end cover song to Kubo is amazing (Regina Spektor), stick around and those credits will sweep by! Back to story though and all that i can say is this film is one one of the most beautiful and passionately told family stories we will be graced with in this generation. This is family film in it’s purest sense with no compromise and not patronising corners cut off cruelly and in fear of losing audience favour. This is a fantastical tale of child like wonder yet filled with brutal and aching sorrow and pain. This is a movie that doesn’t doubt the strength and of children to face and learn from tough facets of life, much like Kubo himself. Loss, doubt, loneliness and pain to contrast and embolden the highs of love, joy and growth. This is a family film that shows the areas of life that families encounter together. And this story is penned beautifully. a committed children’s story with adult lessons to grow to.
The pacing is delightful not just in story but in feel, each dreary dark scene balanced with the warm embrace of fellowship or hope. Impressive and primal fight sequences dotted with light but not ill-fitting relief to stop any younger viewers from being overwhelmed but without diluting the effect. Kubo is attacked but unlike other heroes he doesn’t waste time he is refreshingly responsive to action, and soon he playfully mimics a bird with his origami sorcery. The voice acting is second to none, the cast not leaned upon but freed to channel their layered avatars and everything that makes them up. messages are adult and as deep as the choppy seas of reality. Kubo is a storyteller who fears the ends of stories as he lives in anxiety of losing his Mother he painfully cares for, and avoiding the unknown dread reaching out for him. The Moon King filled with a twisted and cold love and over bearing wish to save his family from pain, punishing family who fail his expectations. Even Kubo’s paper magic is used to great effect never the perfect solution but effective and like kinetic addiction for the eyes.
Standing on the rippling, steroid infused shoulders of the story are a rich collection of characters. As layered as an onion cake being targeted by DiCaprio for Inception, this joyously imagined cast of creations grace our mind-scape quickly. Kubo is believable and damaged but a hero in his honesty and ability to be childishly flawed yet not annoying. Monkey is stern yet stoic and selfless in the protection of Kubo. Beetle is the pinnacle of endearing, male buddy, you just want him to reach out of the screen to play catch with you and tussle your hair. Never too stupid and with genuinely funny chemistry Monkey and Beetle are a resounding victory, and they take the pressure off Kubo’s character maintaining your interest. The Moon King is ominous and brilliantly uncompromising, an actual villain and not a teeth-grindingly misunderstood individual like so many films settle for. The Aunts are flamboyantly terrifying and though they seem hollow have their own back story and motivations making them more driven and important as well as dangerous. Even support characters such as George Takei’s Hosato, Brenda Vaccaro’s Kameyo and the other villagers have enough screen time and personality to flesh out the world and Kubo’s place in it. Even if that place is sometimes on the outside in the cold of being different.
Even some of the things that seem like weaknesses have a point and place. The villagers accept the place of magic without question but the, so you do too and it tells you of the state of this world without you even realising. Kubo fights well with the sword at first but not for long and without flair, he is the hero we pretend to be as a child. Yet this success doesn’t last long as reality remembers, he is an over-matched child after all. The world can be cruel to children more than most. Everything is thought through and it all has it’s purpose.
I am a man who like Kubo hates endings, i usually find film and series endings as ranging from disappointing to sickeningly putrid. Kubo and i need not fear though, an impacting and full ending is not sacrificed for the easy feel good fluff of social acceptance. This is a true victory which is never clean but requires sacrifice and understanding. The last shot though a genius compromise that challenges even the most passionately hard to please to not be satisfied, trust me i actively tried trying not to like it once and failed happily! This is a well written narrative told, made and executed brilliantly. It required pain staking patience to accomplish and luckily like Kubo’s adventure, this film was filled with people that care enough.
Verdict: A harmonious enactment of pure wonder. An unwavering, uncompromising force of human nature with it’s peaks and valleys complementing each other to a artful design. Not just a great animated film or brilliant family film, but simply one of the best films in memory.