REVIEW: Kubo And The Two Strings
Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey
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…the most original creation from an American studio that you will have seen in the past five years.
Laika Studios, the stop-motion animation company owned by Nike co-founder, Phil Knight, hasn’t really put a foot wrong. From Coraline to The Boxtrolls, their stop motion work has become synonymous with marrying darkness with a great deal of heart. Although all of their films are stop motion animations, they are also each distinct, be it with the suburban American ghouls of ParaNorman or the macabre Dickensian world of The Boxtrolls. Unlike Aardman, every new Laika production is anything but familiar. And with Kubo And The Two Strings, they have created their first masterpiece.
The film starts with an expressionistic scene of a mother sailing the choppy seas with her newborn boy, Kubo. We soon see Kubo (voiced by Game Of Thrones’ Art Parkinson) as a young boy, living Grinch-like away from town and possessing powers that allow him to play a shamisen (a Japanese banjo-like stringed instrument), which turns paper into life-size origami. He’s also a storyteller, earning whatever money he can by busking in the local village. Warned to never stay out after dark, Kubo breaks his curfew, and the darkness of the world forces him on a journey to uncover the secrets of his family, assisted by a talking monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron) and a giant beetle (voiced by Matthew McConaughey).
The above description is generalist and obtuse for a reason, and that is because this is the kind of wonderful movie experience that needs to be taken in with fresh eyes. There are, of course, elements influenced by Miyazaki, Kurosawa and Japanese spirituality and culture, but in the hands of Travis Knight, it is made accessible to all. Ultimately, this is the most original creation from an American studio that you will have seen in the past five years. Its flights of creativity are not hindered by pre-existing knowledge or genres or shared universes; the only touchstone that could be brought up is the effect of watching The Wizard Of Oz for the very first time.
First time director, Travis Knight, has been working behind the scenes at Laika since its inception, and you can probably guess that he’s the company owner’s son. Nepotism aside, perhaps that is the reason that this film is so free with its creativity – it’s like the usual studio restrictions and executive notes did not apply here. There are parts of Kubo And The Two Strings (including its cryptic and open-to-interpretation title) that happen so organically, without any explanation, that it’s a joy to behold for modern audiences who are so used to spoonfeeding. And this, in a family film!
Like last year’s Inside Out, it seems that it is in animation that we are seeing today’s cinematic storytelling groundbreakers. Kubo And The Two Strings melds stop motion animation with the latest CGI; and Asian mythology with American artistry, and the result is the first, and potentially last, great movie of 2016. And parents, please don’t be put off by some of the highfalutin influences and dark themes at play here; open your mind with this film for the ages.