‘If you must blink, do it now.’ These words open Kubo and the Two Strings, an animated treat by Laika, and the whole movie is spellbinding – you won’t want to take your eyes off the screen until the movie’s magic is over.
Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young boy blessed with magical powers, whose peaceful existence comes crashing down when he disobeys one of his mother’s rules and accidentally summons a vengeful spirit from the past. Now on the run, Kubo joins forces with Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) to unlock a secret legacy. Armed with a magical instrument and an enchanted paper soldier, Kubo must battle his grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), and other gods and monsters in order to save his family and solve the mystery of his fallen father, the greatest samurai warrior the world has ever known.
Kubo and the Two Strings is another fine addition to the canon of animated films, and I have to start by singing the praises of the animators – this film is absolutely stunning, and having been made via stop-motion, incredibly technically impressive. Laika, the production company, has been responsible for films like Corpse Bride, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls, but this movie is the highlight of a spectacular back catalogue. You’d struggle to find visuals and fights as visually stunning in many other films, animated or not. (On that note, stay for the credits and you’ll be treated to a sequence showing the assembly of one of the movie’s creatures – it’s fascinating to watch.)
It is also complemented by a strong voice cast, with Matthew McConaughey’s enthusiastic beetle the standout (and as a counterpoint to Charlize Theron’s grouchy monkey, cast to perfection – both garner laughs in very different ways). Art Parkinson’s voice is a mixture of youthful playfulness and gearing up for adventure, and both Fiennes and Rooney Mara (as the Sisters) are sinister and villainous. Voices go a lot way towards helping you believe in the world, and
Because it’s a good animated film, it also goes without saying that it’s very thematically deep, and it touches on the melancholy a lot more than other animated pictures – there are some very grown-up issues tackled, amongst which is the value of holding onto the memories of those you love and the place of death in life. There are aspects that are also noticeably dark – it didn’t bother me as such, but some of the children in the cinema definitely weren’t fans of the villainous sisters. That’s not to say it’s all really dark though, and there are a lot of laughs to be had throughout.
There are some issues with the film, although none of them really struck me while I was watching, such is the magic of the picture. The plotting alternates between really complex and incredibly simple, and the solution to the movie’s central mystery was (I thought) really obvious – not that that hampered my enjoyment of the revelation, and the interesting direction it took. The exact stakes are a bit ill-defined, and a climactic battle (whilst stunning) is completely unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. I should say that I’m struggling to find faults, and when you’re losing yourself in this film, stuff like this doesn’t matter.
It is evident that Kubo and the Two Strings is a technically impressive and visually spectacular, but it also stands on its own as a breath-taking adventure film that will amaze viewers of all ages. It delivers on every front – it boasts striking visuals, laughs and scares and is emotionally resonant. This is one of the best movies of the year, and you will be missing out if you don’t go and see it.
Director: Travis Knight
Cast: Charlize Theron (Monkey), Art Parkinson (Kubo), Ralph Fiennes (Moon King), Rooney Mara (The Sisters), Matthew McConaughey (Beetle), George Takei (Hosato)
Running Time: 101 Mins