Over the past few years, a studio known as Laika has been making a huge splash in the world of stop motion animated films, and now Laika is back to bring us their latest work, Kubo and the Two Strings.
Coraline and ParaNorman have shown that this studio doesn’t just make movies that look good, but also have stories that can stand up better than a lot of live action films. Stop motion has always been one of my favorite forms of animation,
Kubo is a young boy living with his mother, who warns him never to stay out after sunset, but when Kubo is late coming home one day, vengeful spirits from his mysterious past attack him.
Kubo’s mother fends off the attack with her magic long enough for Kubo to escape, and now, with the help of a guardian monkey and a strange man who’s also part-beetle, Kubo must find the three pieces of his father’s armor and defeat the evil beings that are coming after him.
It’s been a long time since a movie was able to draw me in as quickly as Kubo, and I was completely sold on this film within the first couple minutes.
The atmosphere is entirely engrossing and feels like it’s ripped right out of a traditional eastern folk tale. While the bare bones of the story is as close to the Hero’s Journey as you can get, the details that surround it are surprisingly complex and add dozens of intricacies to both the characters on screen and the journey itself.
This is a mature story with a notably darker tone than we’re use to with western animation.
There are a lot of complex emotions being explored, most of which are spoiler-heavy so I will avoid discussing them in-depth. Even as someone who is a constant consumer of anime and other more mature animation mediums, I was taken aback by what this film has to offer in terms of raw emotion and intricate character development.
As mentioned earlier, Kubo himself follows the Hero’s Journey trope pretty closely, but his deft storytelling skills and determination to see this quest through makes his journey compelling.
The side characters are a blast to follow as well as they support Kubo in different ways throughout his journey. The monkey has a stricter and more serious personality, while the beetle is a bit goofier and often pals around with Kubo. We’ve seen this combination before in hundreds of other stories, but the way these characters interact and some of the reveals about who they really are make them infinitely more memorable than other quest companions in weaker stories.
My only major complaint about this film is that the main villain’s motivations are a bit odd.
Not necessarily weak, but it kind of threw me off a bit when it was revealed what he actually wanted. I do wish this villain had been just a bit more thought out, but the only reason it stands out so much to me is because everything that precedes it is so solid.
As for animation, Laika proves that they are the rising stars of the animation world with some of the most breathtaking stop motion I’ve ever seen.
The last Laika film I watched was ParaNorman, which I already thought had fantastic animation, but Kubo is on a whole new level. The character designs are fantastic, the action scenes are intense and thrilling, and the overall aesthetic is brimming with traditional Japanese undertones. The color palette stood out to me the most with its warm autumn colors contrasted against the cold and darkness of night. The animation for this film is simply stellar in every sense of the word.
Even the soundtrack is on-point, with its striking shamisen melodies supported by bright strings and percussion backdrops.
The voice acting doesn’t slouch off either, with Art Parkinson (Rickon Stark, Game of Thrones) adding a wealth of emotion to the role of Kubo. Charlize Theron as the stern monkey makes a perfect casting choice, and Matthew McConaughey lending a slightly humorous tone as the beetle adds another layer of complexity to the emotions present throughout the film.
I recently heard one of the film critics I follow describe Laika as “the next Studio Ghibli.” As bold a statement as that is, if Laika keeps putting out movies like Kubo, then such praise is well earned, and I eagerly await their adaptation of Wildwood.
In the meantime, I highly recommend getting to your local theater as quickly as possible to see Kubo and the Two Strings.
Final Score: 9/10