With each passing film, the stop-motion masters at Laika have not only pushed the boundaries of animation, but storytelling as well. Coraline and ParaNorman were both wicked throwbacks to 80’s kids movies. The Boxtrolls was a delightful steampunk adventure. In Kubo and the Two Strings, director Travis Knight draws inspiration from Japanese animation. Outside of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Samurai Jack, this just might be the most breathtaking anime-influenced animation ever. The film is reminiscent of various Studio Ghibli films, most notably Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. Yet, Kubo still maintains a look and feel that exclusively belongs to Laika.
Outside of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Samurai Jack, this just might be the most breathtaking anime-influenced animation ever.
The film is naturally about Kubo (Art Parkinson), a one-eyed boy with a knack for telling stories. He also has a unique ability to bring origami figures to life, making leeway for all sorts of creative imagery. Our titular hero lives a happy life with his mother, but his family’s history is clouded in mystery. Kubo believes he might get some closure by contacting his late father. On his quest for answers, though, he finds himself hunted by vengeful spirits. In order to defeat these demons from the past, Kubo must track down three pieces of magical armor. Along the way, he’s accompanied by a stern, yet nurturing, monkey (Charlize Theron) and a forgetful, yet mighty, beetle (Matthew McConaughey).
While every Laika movie is beautiful to look at, the animators have truly outdone themselves here. With the essence of a living pop up book, Kubo and the Two Strings overflows with gorgeous sights and inventive action. The two most stunning sequences involve a battle with a giant skeleton and a fight aboard a ship made from leaves. It’s a little disappointing that the film’s climax doesn’t quite compare with the previous two set pieces, but it’s still thoroughly thrilling. In many respects, Kubo feels like The Legend of Zelda movie we’ve always wanted to see, especially calling The Wind Waker and Ocarina of Time to mind.
In many respects, Kubo feels like The Legend of Zelda movie we’ve always wanted to see, especially calling The Wind Waker and Ocarina of Time to mind.
The film isn’t all action either. Kubo has no shortage of quiet, atmospheric moments that can only be described as enchanting. The lovely animation is coupled with a story that’s fairly simplistic, but rich with themes and emotions. At the narrative’s heart is a surprisingly strong message about dealing with loss. When a character dies in this movie, they ultimately stay dead. Kubo earns these dark, powerful moments because it never feels like the filmmakers are talking down to their audience. They treat kids like sophisticated adults and pull no punches. Of course they also balance matters out with lots of whimsical moments and a meaningful moral regarding life after death.
Furthermore, Kubo and the Two Strings is packed with distinctive artistry, culture, and mythos. The most amazing thing of all is that the film wasn’t adapted from existing source material. Watching the picture, you’d swear it was based on an ancient fable or short story, but the screenplay is an original product. In an age where seemingly every major film is a remake, a reboot, a sequel, or a nostalgic cash grab, Kubo proves that there’s still hope for innovative ideas.