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Laika Studios, the studio that brought us “Paranorman” and “Coraline,” releases another, less ghoulish adventure with “Kubo and the Two Strings” . Read More

By Frank Ochieng January 28, 2017

Every once in a while there is family-friendly entertainment that lives up to its wonderment in imaginative storytelling and stunning visual scope. Certainly this is the case with the stimulating yet meditative Japanese animated fantasy-adventure **Kubo and the Two Strings**. Undeniably vibrant and philosophical in committed heart and soul, **Kubo and the Two Strings** is a majestic masterpiece in its colorfully realized presentation that ambitiously binds together opulent elements of ancient Far East folklore, eye-opening anime and origami (the finesse art of paper-folding). The competition for jaw-dropping animation within recent years (or even this year) has been remarkably stellar thus far but Kubo confirms its superiority above the ranks. No one can doubt the masterful film-making technique administered by the film’s director Travis Knight in this glossy, whimsical medieval gem.

As with the majority of adventurous and challenging narratives that seek the high-minded exploratory vibes in its execution, **Kubo and the Two Strings** is about the creative coming-of-age quest of a young boy and the spellbinding encounters that materialize as a result. Knight and screenwriters Marc Haimes and Chris Butler oversees a profound and aesthetically remarkable production highlighted by notable voiceover performers (such as Academy Award-winners Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey), stylish and glowing animation and a hypnotic showcase that is an exquisite treat for moviegoers from all walks of life.

Importantly,** Kubo and the Two Strings** is aided by its heralded association with the Oregon-based studio Laika whose treasured reputation in the stop-motion animation process is tremendously noteworthy. Among Laika’s previously outstanding cinematic samples include 2009’s _Coraline_, 2011’s criminally underrated _ParaNorman_ and 2014’s _The Boxtrolls_ so indeed Knight’s superlative **Kubo and the Two Strings** is among exceptional stock. The detailed imagery in **Kubo** is indescribably luscious and the brilliant artistic manufacturing of Laika’s refined flourishes only elevates Knight’s enticing animated vehicle as a compelling journey into the ancient Japanese Edo period mythology.

One can tell that the coveted **Kubo and the Two Strings** is destined to stay true to its mystical leanings especially when the beginning film’s sequence features the caustic quote: ““If you must blink, do it now” …because “if you look away, even for an instant, our hero will surely perish.” As previously mentioned the story takes place in ancient Japan where we find the gifted 11-year old Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson from “Game of Thrones”) existing with his ailing mother on the outskirts of a nearby village. The young Kubo’s talents is such that he is a natural story-telling magician that can skillfully convey his expressive communication through origami. Kubo enjoys the gesture of entertaining the local villagers. However, his mother advises that Kubo must be home before nightfall. Unfortunately, Kubo does not heed her advice but that is not due to his personal defiance or negligence.

In fact, Kubo’s no-show at home is large in part cue to the dubious agenda of his grandfather Moon Father (Academy Award nominee Ralph Fiennes). In instructing his dastardly daughters to track down their beleaguered nephew the stakes are high especially when Moon Father was instrumental in the demise of his slain samurai father. Hence, Kubo must locate his late father’s magical armor-related belongings and reclaim a sense of honor. The tag-a-longs at Kubo’s side include the woolly-looking snow Monkey (Theron) and buff warrior Beetle (McConaughey). Together, the travelling trio is confronted by beastly specimens and other deceptive supernatural forces en route to the ultimate showdown with his sinister grandfather Moon Father. Armed with resiliency and determination Kubo and his crafty companions face uncertainties that are quite unimaginable to say the least.

**Kubo and the Two Strings** is an astonishing offering that taps into its pulsating pulse with its mild intensity that should not deter the youngsters from fully experiencing the escapist vision of young Kubo and his offbeat sidekicks. Parkinson’s Kubo is idealistic and has a fearless approach to questioning the unassuming world around him. The combination of roguishness and wide-eyed innocence is certainly appealing to the intrigued tots that may view Kubo’s wily exploits as exciting and surreal in the name of his heroic daddy’s destiny. Theron’s acid-tongued Monkey is inspired in grand impishness with snarky flair. As for McConaughey’s flippant gung-ho Beetle he is an odd serving of comical relief and well-intentional courageousness. Fiennes makes for an ideal unctuous rival as his Moon Father is the Darth Vader to Kubo’s impressionable Luke Skywalker blueprint. Also, Academy Award nominee Rooney Mara is wickedly delicious as the scheming aunts–the twin sisters of Kubo’s sickly mother. Rounding out the supporting cast are the supplied voices of Asian contributors such as George Takei’s (“TV Star Trek’s original Sulu”) Hosato, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s Hashi and Minae Noji’s Minae among the Kubo personalities that populate Knight’s dazzling display of a transcendent Japanese-flavored Grimm fairy tale.

Naturally the real selling point for **Kubo and the Two Strings** is the standout computer-generated technology and other incorporated genres of animation that gives this polished fantasy fable its magnificent sheen. Knight, a first-time director whose background as Laika’s primary animator is evidenced in the celebrated animation studio’s first three films, demonstrates the authenticity of his amazing craft courtesy of the stop-motion precision that defines his sensual cinematic landscape.

Overall, **Kubo and the Two Strings** radiates with sweeping charm, boldness, curiosity and depth as it exemplifies the epitome of the awestruck construction of an enlightening, sophisticated feature length animation. The mixture of humor, thrills, drama and tragedy is decidedly triumphant allowing **Kubo and the Two Strings** to flex its reflective, throbbing mysterious muscles.

**Kubo and the Two Strings** (2016)

Focus Features

1 hr. 41 mins.

Starring: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brenda Vaccaro

Directed by: Travis Knight

MPAA Rating: PG

Genre: Fantasy & Sci-Fi/ Action & Adventure/Animation

Critic’s rating: **** stars (out of 4)

(c) **Frank Ochieng** 2016

By Reno January 28, 2017

**A boy, a monkey and a giant beetle team up for a quest.**

This is not an old fashioned stop-motion animation. This is a very modern, a hybrid of multiple techniques that includes 3D printing and digital special effects. The directional debut for the producer of 'ParaNorman' and 'The Boxtrolls'. The tale is about a one eyed boy named Kubo, who has been hiding in a seaside mountain cave near a small village from his grandfather, the moon king, ever since his birth, protected by his mother. He grew up listening the stories of a legendary samurai warrior Hanzo. But one day after he himself exposed to the moonlight, the troubles follow. Now his only chance to survive is to find his father's armours and so the quest begins where he teams up with other two.

This is a Japanese story, takes place somewhere in a fictional ancient Japan. Technically, this film was so good, very pleasant for viewing, especially the framerate was higher than normal stop-motion animation. The character models, music, the length of the film, the pace of the narration, all were so brilliant, but not the story. It was average, I mean very, very simple and familiar. Still, it is a very likable film, particularly the children would love it. I'm going to repeat again like I always say while reviewing stop-motion animation films that this kind of films are rare, so when they make one, that automatically goes to a must see list. Whether you're going to like it or not, I hope you won't miss it.


By Richard von Busack August 24, 2016

Fans are startings to look forward to a new Laika film the same way we used to look forward to a new Pixar. Kubo and the Two Strings is the newest 3-D stop-motion animation from the Portland-based studio responsible for Coraline, Paranorman and The Boxtrolls. One scene has a backdrop of what looks like the famed Rashomon gate next to sequoia-sized trees; this ravishing, delicate story nods back to Kurosawa's Rashomon, a film about the untrustworthiness of tale-tellers and what they conceal.

Kubo is a story of interlocked fictions, sometimes very sad, sometimes cryptic—not bad qualities in a cartoon. The act of storytelling is the titular character's literal weapon against death, of preservation of lives otherwise forgotten. During a fight with a monster, young Kubo is told, "This isn't one of your stories." He responds, "How do you know?"

It begins with a tempest, in which a fleeing Japanese noblewoman is in an open boat with her baby. A wave wipes her out, and knocks her head against an undersea rock. Cut to some 10 years later, where her one-eyed son Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) is a busking tale-teller in a small village. For coins, Kubo tells the marketplace the continuing story of a samurai questing for "the sword unbreakable, the breastplate impenetrable, and the helmet invulnerable." He uses origami props to illustrate the tales. The money buys food for his mother, who is scarred, brain-damaged and mostly mute in a nearby cave. In a moment of lucidity, the mother (voiced by Charlize Theron) warns her son never to go out at night.

We've seen that this scarred mother had powers once: when she struck the chord on her samisen, the burst of sound sliced a killer rogue wave in half. And when she has nightmares, origami paper dances around the room, twisting itself into shapes. During the obon festival, the Japanese Halloween, Kubo inevitably stays out too late to see the lanterns. On his way home, he is attacked by his mother's two terrible sisters, evil Taoist sorceresses. Kubo's mother transports her son to the land of the snows, to be cared for by a wary, ornery monkey (also Thereon), and their new friend, Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), a samurai trapped in the form of a stag beetle. Like the beloved nigh-unbreakable, nigh-impenetrable and nigh-invulnerable cartoon character, The Tick, this Beetle is hearty, fearless and rather dumb. Like a real beetle, he ends up helpless on his back for a few moments.

Hidden parts of the story emerge in flashback as the quest continues. Minds clouded by magic gradually clear. The warriors encounter a colossal crimson skeleton-demon. They go undersea to get the weapons to fight Kubo's spectral grandfather the pale Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), a wizard of tremendous power.

The arc of the quest, with battle and reunion at its end—that's familiar in fantasy. What isn't familiar in Kubo is the use of Buddhist imagery, with looming statues, and a strangely craggy Mt. Fuji watching over the odd band of questers. The talking monkey observes the chance of reincarnation: "The end of one journey is the beginning of the other."

The Moon King, the puppet-show villain who becomes real, seeks possession of Kubo's remaining eye. At the risk of mixed metaphor, Kubo makes the eye not as the window of the soul, but the soul itself. It's a symbol of the essence of humanity, being able to see others, to feel compassion and love for them.

Compared with other animation studios' talking troll dolls and sausages—Kubo's director, Travis Knight, aims for a film closer to Ugetsu than Ice Age—this is fairly dense and risky material. That's one reason why it's not a movie meant for young children, plus it's far too scary for them. A good thing, then, Kubo glows with sensitivity and intelligence, with its porcelain-masked demons, its wise monkey and the imagery that recalls the heights of the fantasy era of Hong Kong—the various versions of Bride with the White Hair come to mind. Laika Studios' independence is rare in feature-length animation today—rather than topping a franchise, they seek emphasis on character, background, and the sharp wounding edge of a story.