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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: "Kubo and the Two Strings" makes beautiful, cinematic music

Aug 19, 2016 01:41AM ● By Dan Metcalf

Kubo and the Two Strings - © 2016 Focus Features.

Kubo and the Two Strings (Focus Features/Laika)

Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril.

Starring (voices of) Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Matthew McConaughey, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brenda Vaccaro.

Written by Marc Haimes, Chris Butler and Shannon Tindle.

Directed by Travis Knight.



In the world of feature animation, there are generally two or three big players. There’s the Disney/Pixar cabal, with all its historic dominance. Then there are the newcomers: Dreamworks, Illumination, and Blue Sky folks, followed by a few others with relative success, like Aardman and their “claymation” hits. One studio that doesn’t really fall in line with the idea of churning out mass production animated series is Laika, the stop-motion animation studio. They’ve brought us Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls and now Kubo and the Two Strings. The Laika folks may be small, but they are producing some of the best animation around for the past seven years. Kubo may be their best effort yet, and perhaps one of the best films of 2016.

Set in ancient Japan, it’s the story of Kubo (Art Parkinson) and his mother (Charlize Theron), who saved her son from her own evil witch twin sisters (both voiced by Rooney Mara) who were attempting to steal both of Kubo’s eyes (they got one already, as the boy wears and eye patch). The sisters are working at the behest of the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), Kubo’s grandfather and a god who lives among the stars ruling in the darkness. Kubo is a talented storyteller, using his mother’s shamisen (a three-stringed Japanese banjo of sorts) to magically fold paper into origami action figures while entertaining of the town near the cave where he and his mother took refuge from their despotic family. One day, Kubo forgets to return home before dark (when he’s vulnerable to evil aunts) and is attacked. Sacrificing herself and using all her magic, Kubo’s mom arrives and transports her son to a faraway land, while changing his favorite wooden monkey toy into an actual monkey who protects him. “Monkey” challenges Kubo to go on a quest to locate his the armor of his late father Hanso, a mighty samurai who was killed by the Moon King while protecting Kubo and his mom. Along the way, they meet “Beetle” (Matthew McConaughey), a humanoid insect warrior with no memory of his backstory. Beetle joins the quest as the trio set out to find Hanso’s sword, chest plate and helmet before the sisters and the king can stop him. Kubo eventually does battle with both sisters and his grandfather back at his home village. He must use all the magic in the shamisen and the love of his fallen human ancestors to overcome the darkness.

Kubo and the Two Strings is an excellent film, and the best one I’ve seen this year. I’m not saying it’s the limited to being the best animated feature (which it is), but the best overall. Travis Knight’s incredible stop-motion animation surpasses anything Laika has done in the past, especially in terms of artistry and storytelling. Most of the scenes are garnished with outstanding landscapes and backdrops that come to life as if a beautiful watercolor painting suddenly animated.

Adding to the exceptional artistry is a story that carries a deep, wonderful message about love and family, especially departed loved ones. It’s a movie that will truly turn the hearts of children to their ancestors (That’s code for my Mormon peeps), and inspire many to look for the good in humanity, and inspiration in their family tree.

Kubo and the Two Strings is a triumph, full of wonder and love. I highly recommend it.

Kubo and the Two Strings Trailer