WINNER – BAFTA AWARDS: Best Animated Feature FIlm
NOMINATED – ACADEMY AWARDS: Best Feature Film of the Year and Best Achievement in Special Effects
Starring: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara & Ralph Fiennes
Written by: Marc Haimes & Chris Butler
Story by: Shannon Tindle & Marc Haines
Directed by: Travis Knight
Running Time: 1hr 41mins
“Stop-motion has this sort of weird, magical charm and energy that reminds us what it was like when we were kids, I still have that feeling to this day. Even though I’ve been doing this for 20 years, when I walk to a stop-motion set and I see the puppets underneath those beautiful lights, I don’t feel the medium has lost any of its allure, charm or magic. It’s still just as beautiful as it was when I was a kid running home from school to see those after-school specials and movies.” – Travis Knight, Director of KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS
2016 gave us several really great animated films, like Aardman Studios’ SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE, Pixar’s INSIDE OUT and 20th Century Fox’s THE PEANUTS MOVIE. One of the best of the year was Laika Entertainment’s (creators of THE BOXTROLLS and PARANORMAN) KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS. This stop motion animated film, which boasts an 18-foot puppet (the largest of its kind) in one of the most harrowing scenes, barely making back its 60 million dollar budget worldwide, its adventurous story and emotional themes that should resonate with almost everyone who watches it makes one wonder why this film didn’t attract as wide an audience as it truly deserved. Even their Oscar nomination for Best Animated Film didn’t seem to help
The film opens by warning the audience, “If you must blink, do it now.” Well, trust me, they’re not kidding. Get it out of your system early because if you dare to look away at the wrong moment, you might miss something spectacular. From the opening scene where a woman battles her way through some stormy ocean waves to the film’s closing moments, KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS will have moviegoers staring with amazement at the incredible visuals that are being presented to them. All done with the art of stop motion animation makes it all the more wonderous considering how in today s world of filmmaking, so much is done inside a computer. It an exciting adventure the follows its characters on a journey of discovery where the character revelations are just as amazing as the spectacular visuals.
The story plays like a dark fairy tale and tells of Kubo, a young boy who’s had one eye stolen by his villainous grandfather, The Moon King. In order to get him away from the evil man’s clutches, Kubo’s mother runs away and takes him to a far off land to live in secret. A few years later, armed with a magical lute and some enchanted origami figures, Kubo dazzles a nearby village with a mythical story in one of the films most impressive scenes. He tells the same tale of his lost warrior father that his mother has shared with him over and over again, a story that he can never seem to finish before he must return home. This is because, as his mother continuously warns him, if he stays out after sundown her evil sisters will be able to use their magic to find and bring him back to the Moon King who awaits to take his other eye. Of course, one night young Kubo stays out too late and these warning prove true. His aunts track them down, forcing Kubo’s mother to use the last of her magic to help him escape. Now, assisted by some newfound friends, Monkey (magically born from Kubo’s beloved wooden charm), Hanzo (an origami warrior brought to life) and Beetle (a samurai cursed into the form of an insect), Kubo must set out on a quest to find three pieces of his father’s legacy – The Sword Unbreakable, the Armor Impenetrable and the Helmet Invulnerable – to help defend the land against his mother’s evil sisters and the Moon King.
Honestly, the plot is rather simple and many of the twists can be predicted long before the script reveals them. The filmmakers seem more interested in the movie’s themes and artistry than creating anything too complicated in the main story structure. That being said, playing on the concept that our memories are what make us who we are, the writers Marc Haimes and Chris Butler have written a script full of enough underlying themes to get moviegoers thinking deeply about its true intentions. The notion that these memories are the strongest magic that we have because they hold the stories of those we’ve lost are pretty fascinating and it’s the exploration of this theme that holds the film at such a high level.
The stop-motion animation is as impressive as we could possibly expect as the film is brought to life with incredible attention to detail. Everything from the design of the enchanted origami figures to the movement of the ocean waves is nothing short of amazing as the imagery put on display throughout seems to be inspired by filmmakers such as Akira Kurosawa and Tim Burton. Early in the film as we are first introduced to Kubo’s magical talents that come from the strum of his instrument’s strings, paper leaps to the sky folding into origami figures that help tell Kubo’s stories. This gives us some of the best visual moments present in any movie released this year. The scenes with the evil sisters are haunting in their dark tones (which may be a little too creepy for younger children) while watching Kubo, Monkey and Beetle sail the high seas in a ship made of leaves is truly unforgettable. We get a scene under the water with some large eyeballs which are especially memorable and a fight with a large skeleton that will have your eyes glued to the screen. The stop-motion animation never fails to work wonders. Inspired by the old-school Ray Harryhausen films, this type of animation really allows the animators the opportunity to show off their talents while testing their imaginary limits. The visual nature is so striking at times that I would predict if you were to turn off the dialogue track and watch the film with only its amazing score by Dario Marianelli accompanying it, the experience would be just as wondrous.
The writers do a great job in creating some really wonderful characters too. With enough mythical backstory woven in to keep the emotions of the characters real and interesting, audiences will find themselves really caring for Kubo, Monkey and Beetle. Kubo’s adventure may offer few surprises on the surface, but it’s his inner journey of discovery that really helps to keep us captivated.
Art Parkinson is great as Kubo, adding the right amount of heart to the role and giving some real weight to the character’s emotions while discovering the truth regarding his family’s past. Charlize Theron is also wonderful as Monkey. Her deadpan delivery mixes well with the animator’s visual interpretation of the character’s actions, adding some humor to the sense of seriousness needed to play Kubo’s mentor and protector effectively. Then there’s Mathew McConaughey’s humorous portrayal of Beatle, the Half man, half insect who doesn’t seem to remember who he is, which adds just the perfect amount of light to a somewhat dark story. Lastly, let’s not forget Rooney Mara, who is incredibly effective as the two evil aunts, giving their voices a truly chilling quality that will bring a small shiver down everyone’s spine.
KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS is not a perfect film as the story itself is a little too predictable. Fortunately, there is some real ambition demonstrated within its artistry, and the animators have achieved a level of visual wonder not seen in many modern-day movies. Offering up a spectacular experience that audiences won’t soon forget, the film’s theme regarding the magic of our memories is truly fascinating. With a mixture of styles that go from magical to adventurous to downright scary, the filmmakers really do offer us something to cherish.
Watch KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS.
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