Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

Review #1,343

Director:  Travis Knight
Cast:  Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara
Plot:  A young boy named Kubo must locate a magical suit of armor worn by his late father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past.

Genre:  Animation / Adventure
Awards:  Nom. for 2 Oscars - Best Animated Feature, Best Visual Effects
Runtime:  101min
Rating:  PG13 for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril.
Distributor:  United International Pictures 

“If you must blink, do it now.”

Kubo and the Two Strings might just nab the Best Animated Feature Oscar come February next year.  Directed by Travis Knight, the boss of Laika, the company behind such superb animated works as Coraline (2009) and ParaNorman (2012), Kubo is possibly the most beautiful animated film that you will see this year, done in painstaking stop-motion (the end credits reveal the incredible scale of the filmmakers' gargantuan efforts), with a story that brings out the technique to the fullest. 

Very much sincerely immersed in its Japanese culture and setting, and in my opinion, currently functioning as the most outstanding animated example of a positive East Asian cultural appropriation by the West, Kubo puts substantial weight unto a popular culture trend marked by such mainstream successes as the ‘Kung Fu Panda’ franchise (2008, 2011 and 2016) and Big Hero 6 (2014).  This is not to say that Laika's latest endeavour is not mass appeal enough, but that (hopefully) the audience’s affirmation at the box-office may chart a less blatant marketing path for future studios to embrace. 

Laika's strength is in their intricate and authentic production design, from the costumes to the set decor and their use of warm, earthy colours.  The shamisen, the stringed instrument used so prominently as a plot device, also provides light aural accompaniment to Dario Marianelli’s modern orchestral score.  In the most obvious nod to the cultural richness of the East-West symbiosis, the shamisen becomes the guitar in George Harrison's ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps', played poignantly in the end credits. 

A story about a boy overcoming the odds to defend the memory and honour of his family against a cold, dastardly supernatural world devoid of humanity, Kubo and the Two Strings is magical, unexpectedly funny, and an adventure that is epic in its breathtaking canvas of alternate worlds, myths and make-believe (i.e. imagination), yet it is the film’s introspection and emotional trajectories—death and memory are recurrent themes—that bring rather uncommon maturity to the medium. 

Verdict:  One of the strongest and most beautiful animated films of the year, in stop-motion mind you, this is a major Oscar contender. 


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