If you’ve been reading my blog over the past few months, you know just how disappointed I’ve been with this summer’s films. That article was written midway through July and concluded with a list of four films that I felt could break through the din. Suicide Squad (which is a can of worms I do not intend to open), Star Trek Beyond, a film that was honestly pretty good, The Founder, which was pushed back to Oscar Season, and lastly, and as evident by the title of this piece, most notably, Kubo and the Two Strings. Of all the movies I saw this summer, (save for the independent masterpiece that is Swiss Army Man) Kubo and the Two Strings is by far the only one that I found to be genuinely great; a superb film that had me engaged from start to finish.
Kubo and the Two Strings is the latest creation from Stop-Motion Animation Studio “Laika” who have given us the recent Coraline, Paranorman and The Boxtrolls. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the artform of Stop-Motion, it is an incredibly dedicated form of animation that creates cinema out of individual frames that are created out of some form of physical media, be it clay or as was represented in Netflix’s recent The Little Prince, paper, or anything else. I have a soft spot in my heart for stop-motion animation, simply because of the unbelievable amount of hard work that is required to make such a film. But in addition to my respect for the craft, in general, stop-motion has birthed some terrific movies. Outside of the other Laika films, you’ve also got the paragons that are Wallace and Gromit and James and The Giant Peach, not to mention one of my favorite films of all time, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. However, of all the stop-motion films I’ve ever seen, Kubo is by far the most impressive. The characters in this film make certain facial expressions and emotive body movements that have never been possible up to this point. At no point does the animation feel jerky or robotic, but rather energetic and flawless. A major component of this film is Kubo’s ability to summon and control origami creations with his guitar. Through the magic of filmmaking, the audience bears witness to the spectacle that is hundreds if not thousands of individual pieces of paper effortlessly assembling and folding themselves into all sorts of imaginative structures. All I know is, we’ve come a long way since Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
But let’s judge the film on its substance, in addition to its style. Kubo is everything a movie should be. It has gorgeous visuals, an engrossing story, a joyous soundtrack, thoroughly entertaining performances, and original characters. We’ve already discussed the animation, so let’s move on to the story. Kubo and the Two Strings feels decidedly timeless. The story follows our hero, Kubo who is thrust into a quest to defy threats from his past and discover his destiny with the help of a talking monkey, and a samurai warrior with a curious curse. The plot theoretically takes place in ancient Japan, which lends it the gift of being lost in time. It’s a classic tale of revenge and redemption, the likes of which could have been written a thousand years ago, rather than within this century. Kubo carries a guitar with him that adds to the overscoring as well as having some solo moments in the spotlight. The coupling of Kubo’s guitar (which in reality is closer to a mandolin) with the overarching orchestra creates an infectious blend that is just pure majesty to the ear. Sound is incredibly important in animated films, and Kubo utilizes audio in a masterful way. In addition to the lofty soundtrack and the oriental sound effects, the voice acting is delightful. While Art Parkinson does a terrific and boyish job of embodying Kubo, the true joy of this film comes from the characters of Monkey and Beetle, respectively voiced by Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey. These two characters come beautifully to life in a surprisingly human way, considering their inhuman nature. However, all of the characters in this movie are blissfully realized, perhaps even more adeptly than if they were portrayed by real people. This film is thoughtful and poignant, as well as luminous and full of adventure.
The only complaints that I have for this film are that it is a tad bit predictable and maybe, just maybe, about fifteen minutes too short. And that’s really it. Both of these faults are honestly justifiable. The predictability could be chalked up to the classic nature of the storytelling, and the length is honestly more than anyone could ask for, given the undertaking that is the making of a Stop-Motion film. It is not just a great animated movie, but a great movie, period. And unlike all the other major films this summer, and I do mean all of them, it has heart. It is free of the corporate Hollywood grasp that choked the creativity behind so many of this summer’s movies (see Suicide Squad) and instead is what movies used to be. A triumphant display of what filmmakers can do, rather than a product designed to sell tickets, feeding off of previous successes (see Captain America: Civil War or Ghostbusters). I implore all of you to see Kubo for two reasons. One: To encourage and support Laika in their future films. Two: to send a message to Hollywood that we prefer something original and genuine over something manufactured and half-hearted. It took literally all summer, but I finally saw a really great summer movie. Thank God for Kubo and the Two Strings.
Kubo and the Two Strings: A+
Image: Kubo and his mother in Laika’s Kubo and The Two Strings; a Focus Features film.