Stop-motion studio LAIKA emerged on the animation scene less than a decade ago and already has left a huge mark by producing unique, out-of-the-box, breathtakingly gorgeous films. While most of its past efforts have focused more on grim subject matter, its newest release Kubo and the Two Strings feels more classical in both its narrative and style. Could it possibly be LAIKA’s best film yet?
Kubo and the Two Strings tells the story of a young boy, Kubo (Art Parkinson), who lives secluded from society with his mother (Charlize Theron). Each morning, he ventures into town to showcase his origami storytelling gifts for the townsfolk, who tip him for the performances. However, due to events from her past, his mother is in need of his care and she warns him that he must always come home before dark or else her evil sisters (Rooney Mara) will come after them.
One night, Kubo visits a cemetery where deceased loved ones communicate with their living relatives, hoping to hear from his father. Despite his many attempts at communion, his father does not respond, so he heads home, not realizing that it’s already past nightfall. This causes his aunts to appear, discovering Kubo and his mother’s whereabouts. After a battle, Kubo is left alone and meets his new companion Monkey, who was a wooden monkey charm who turned to life from his mother’s magic. Along the way, they also meet Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), a warrior who claims to have served Kubo’s father. Together, the three of them must find the three pieces of Kubo’s fathers armor in order to stop the sisters before it’s too late.
From the very first scene, you will be dazzled by Kubo and the Two Strings. The visuals are spectacular, as they are inspired by Japanese woodblock prints, which give extra flair to LAIKA’s already trademark stop-motion design. Not only are the visuals and animation impressive, but the story is also likewise remarkable. The storytelling feels much like a classic fairy tale, fit for any generation. The film is mature and doesn’t pander to younger viewers, which is a welcome change of pace from other summer animated releases.
The film isn’t bloated with excess characters. Instead we focus on a core group of characters, each of which are very fleshed out and impressive. Kubo himself is a strong protagonist, who not only steps up at a young age to provide for his family, but also sets out on a remarkable journey. His companions Monkey and Beetle are headstrong and opinionated, resulting in great banter and dissension, while yet always looking out for Kubo and his wellbeing.
As expected from LAIKA, Kubo and the Two Strings will be unlike any animated film you will see this year. It’s bold, stunning and a breath of fresh air in an ever more polluted animated landscape. Evoking origins in classic fairy tale storytelling, it’s everything we crave for in an animated film and more and one of the best films of the year.