Artist: Arthur Rackham (1867-1939)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

'Kubo and the Two Strings": An instant classic

Copyright: Laika Entertainment
“If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see, no matter how unusual it may seem. If you look away, even for an instant, then our hero will surely perish.” ~Kubo
“Kubo and the Two Strings” is the new stop-motion animated fairy tale set in ancient Japan from Laika Entertainment. Laika is the studio that brought us such wonderful magical animated features as “Coraline,” “ParaNorman,” and “The Box Trolls.” Laika has certainly created a masterpiece with this tale of mystery and wonder.

Kubo is a one-eyed boy whose background and tragic beginnings are a mystery to him. He has a lot of responsibility for a young boy, as he is the sole support for himself and his disabled mother. He makes his living as a story teller in his little village, where people young and old drop everything to hear his serial epic. He spins the yarn of the warrior Hanzo and his battles with the wicked Moon King, while playing his enchanted shamisen. As he plays and tells the tale, origami characters form from paper and act out the wondrous saga.

Kubo never gets to finish the story because he must rush home to his mother each day before dark, as she has made him promise to do. His mother, who is slipping away from the world due to memory loss, also tells Kubo to wear his father’s robe, and to keep his wooden monkey charm with him at all times. She warns him to beware of her evil sisters and father, who took Kubo’s eye. One day Kubo fails to get in before nightfall, and the consequences are dire.  The young boy must set out on a quest, accompanied by a cursed beetle and a talking snow monkey to find his father’s armor in order to save himself from his mother’s magical, but dangerous family.

“Kubo and the Two Strings” takes the audience on a suspense-filled adventure that’s full of beautiful animated characters, landscapes, and visuals created by director Travis Knight, cinematographer Frank Passingham, visual effects supervisor Steve Emerson, the animation department lead by Malcolm Lamont, and character designer Shannon Tindle. Laika’s team of artists who craft the models are to be commended for the stunning and expressive characters they create. That team includes Toby Froud, son of legendary fairy artists Brian and Wendy Froud, who is best known for playing the baby in the classic fairytale movie “Labyrinth.” The film features a sweeping musical score by Dario Marianelli. The unique and compelling story is by Marc Haimes and Shannon Tindle, with a screenplay by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler.

The voice actors give outstanding performances. The witch sisters, both played by Rooney Mara are quite chilling. The much beloved George Takei (Mr. Sulu from the original “Star Trek”), and veteran actress Brenda Vaccaro give lovely performances as Kubo’s elderly neighbors. The great Ralph Fiennes as the Moon King is a frightening, powerful, yet nuanced villain. Oscar winners Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey are in top form as Kubo’s companions/protectors on his journey, and their characters are deep and broad. Young Art Parkinson is engaging as Kubo. He is vulnerable, funny, clever, strong, and heartbreaking.

“Kubo and the Two Strings” is a layered and multifaceted fairy story. It features themes of mystery, magic, love, and family. It truly offers something for everyone, but there are a couple of scenes that could be a bit scary for very small children. It has tragedy, action, adventure, tender family moments, heartache, comedy, and more. The resolution of the story is satisfying, yet unique and poignant.

Verdict:  Fairytastic! 5 out of 5 stars, please see this movie. Laika gives us beautiful stop-motion animation that takes lots of talent, time, and expense to create. Their films feature unusual stories that are like nothing else out there. They are long overdue for an Oscar.  


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