Kubo and the Two Strings tells the story of a young boy with one eye who is accompanied by a monkey (specifically a Japanese macaque) and a stag beatle/human hybrid on a quest to find 3 magical items and defeat a powerful foe. The film stars Art Parkinson as our eponymous hero, Charlize Theron as Monkey, Matthew McConaughey as Beattle, Ralph Fiennes as the Moon King and Rooney Mara as Karasu and Washi. Set in medieval Japan, the film is a fantasy action epic, a rarity in animation and a first for Laika Entertainment (know for their kid friendly horror movies Coraline and ParaNorman and their family friendly comedy The Boxtrolls).
The movie starts out with Kubo being the talk of the town as he uses his shamisen to bring origami to life and entertain the townsfolk. After losing his mother to Karasu and Washi, daughters of the Moon King, Kubo is found by Monkey who takes him on a quest to find 3 magical items and use them to defeat the Moon King. Along the way, they encounter Beatle, a skilled archer with no recollection of his past and face off against many obstacles that come their way. At the same time, they also try to get along with each other, as at first Monkey doesn’t care much for Beatle and who’s main concern is protecting Kubo. It’s not until after Beatle saves Kubo’s life from a monster under the sea that she finally learns to trust and respect him. It’s also after that scene that we learn that Monkey and Beatle aren’t just your typical straw man and comedy relief.
The most obvious selling point of this movie is the animation and Laika truly gave it more than 100% this time around. The way origami is brought to life as Kubo plays his shamisen is beautiful, especially when you consider that aside from some CGI every now and again, the entire film is stop-motion. There also one of the obstacles Kubo and company have to face, which according to Laika is the largest stop-motion puppet of all time. I dare not spoil it, but Laika’s effort into making such an enormous puppet and have it face off against the characters is in no question spectacular. I said there was CGI present in this movie, and its especially prominent during the climax with a combination of stop-motion and green screen to make the climax as epic as first time director and Laika CEO, Travis Knight, envisioned it.
I also liked how the music complements the setting and story and makes it feel like this could be told in the same way Kubo tells stories to the townsfolk. The shamisen is utilized brilliantly in the sound track as it brings out that medieval Japanese vibe you’d expect from this film. The score also makes the action feel grand dios, especially during the film’s climax. Even when the characters are learning more about each other, the music sets the mood perfectly on how the audience should feel at this moment.
The actors of course should get no shortage of credit as they made these characters likable from the get-go. Starting with our lead, Art Parkinson, he really does bring out the heart and bravery of Kubo as will as his cleverness when the time is appropriate. While Charlize Theron has done voice work before (as the narrator for the 2009 animated adaptation of Astro Boy), this is truly the first animated role were she makes a big impact. As Monkey, she gives her a very serious but occasionally funny personally, but later in the film she excels at being emotional and sympathetic to the point where one my shed a tear at her performance. Matthew McConaughey just has a blast as Beatle, making him amusing and fun to watch while he’s on screen. He and Charlize Theron work off each other so well as these to characters, I kinda with these two were in more movies together. Then you have Rooney Mara as Karasu and Washi, who just sinks into the role as these two villains so flawlessly that i honestly couldn’t tell that it was her. Ralph Fiennes also makes for a sympathetic and yet dangerous foe; not on the same level as Voldemort, but still good nonetheless.
Kubo and the Two Strings just might be Laika’s best film as well as one of the best stop-motion animated films of all time. Equipped with likable characters, an epic story, clever dialogue and of course stupendous animation, this film could’ve been the winner of the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature had Disney’s Zootopia not have easily swiped it. They film might have underperformed at the box office, but hopefully the more people that watch it, the more likely it will become a classic. I recommend this film to people of all ages, especially children who would love a good action animated adventure. This film is also a must see for animation fans and for those who crave originality in Hollywood.