WRITER’S NOTE: This is coming out a bit later than usual, once again due to personal stuff. The article will be updated throughout the weekend to reflect current numbers and statistics.
‘What You Should Know’ is a Rotoscopers series that gives you a detailed and (somewhat) objective rundown of this year’s animated films, right before or on the day they hit theaters. That way, you can make a decision on whether or not to see the movie based on the information provided.
MOVIE: Kubo and the Two Strings
DIRECTED BY: Travis Knight
WRITTEN BY: Marc Haimes and Chris Butler (based on a story by Shannon Tindle and Marc Haimes)
STARRING: Art Parkinson (Kubo), Matthew Mcconaughey (Beetle), Charlize Theron (Monkey), Ralph Fiennes (Raiden the Moon King), Rooney Mara (The Sisters), George Takei (Hosato), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Hashi), and Brenda Vaccuo (Kameyo)
MUSIC BY: Dario Marianelli
STUDIO: Focus Features
PRODUCTION COMPANY: Laika Entertainment
PRODUCTION BUDGET: $60 million
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?:
Set against the backdrop of a fantasy environment inspired by Japanese folklore and mythology, Kubo and the Two Strings is the story of a young boy whose peaceful livelihood comes under attack from a vengeful spirit looking to settle an age-old debt. In order to defeat him and his army of gods and monsters, he must under go an epic journey with the help of two skilled companions to find a magical suit of armor once worn by a legenday Samurai – who happens to be Kubo’s late father.
A BRIEF HISTORY:
In October of 2014, LAIKA struck a deal with its distributor Focus Features for three more films. Kubo and the Two Strings was the first of those films, officially announced by LAIKA in December of that year.
IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW:
This film marks the directorial debut of LAIKA’s president and CEO Travis Knight, following his stint as lead animator on the company’s previous films (Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls). To my knowledge, no other animation CEO in history has ever directed a film for their company (most of them are either former producers or executives).
This was also Matthew McConaghey’s first animated film role. According to Variety, Matthew always had an interest in voice acting, but he wanted to find the perfect role to break in: “I’d been looking for a voice acting role for years. When this came along – it’s a quality production, Laika’s quality, the story’s good – I was in.”
Before we get to the box office numbers and such, here’s the thing you need to know about LAIKA. Historically, LAIKA hasn’t been overly concerned with box office numbers like most other studios. The films are budgeted just low enough to where they don’t have to worry about reaching a break-even point. None of their films have been big box office blowouts, but they’ve made enough money to continue making films, which appears to be something they are comfortable with.
Ever since the first trailer came out, Kubo has been met with near-universal praise and anticipation. Subsequent trailers, packed aplenty with more footage, continued that trend and further cemented Kubo as one of the most anticipated animated films of the year.
LAIKA, as far as I’m aware, is the only studio that’s actively trying to evolve the art form of stop-motion. Just from watching the trailers alone, I can safely say that Kubo doesn’t look like any other stop-motion movie I’ve seen before, and that’s largely because the movie is doing things visually that I’ve never seen any other stop-motion movie do. It’s a revolutionary usage of the medium, flexing muscles that have never been used to any great extent.
Add on to that a top-notch voice cast (points for getting one of the kids from Game of Thrones), a solid marketing campaign, and you have an animated movie that appears to officially mark LAIKA’s evolution from reliable niche house to blockbuster power player.
While not as big a controversy as, say, Ghost in the Shell or The Great Wall, the film has been blasted in some small circles for rounding up a cast of white leading actors to play Japanese roles (or in some cases, roles that read as Japanese). Also, the film might prove to be quite the whiplash for some LAIKA die-hards, who are more used to the gothic-horror trappings of their first three films.
If early tracking estimates are correct, then Kubo will have an uphill battle to climb in the days ahead. Said projection suggests that Kubo may land in fourth place with $13-$14 million, in a near-literal dead heat with Warner Bros.’ War Dogs.
Much like Ratchet & Clank, Kubo is going to need the strong support of two of its targeted demographics: genre fans and millennial crowds. That will be a tough challenge, since there are already two different movies that appeal heavily to both groups: Sony Pictures’ Sausage Party and Warner Bros.’/DC Films’ Suicide Squad. Disney’s Pete’s Dragon will likely have the bulk of the family crowds (despite okay numbers), so there’s not much hope for Kubo in that space. In short, while the LAIKA fanbase is already guaranteed, the jury is still out on everybody else.
There are two silver linings, however. First, strong word-of-mouth from both critics and audiences might pull this up, but by how much is not yet clear and might not be made so until Sunday or Monday. Second, fantasy movies (with several exceptions) have always done better overseas than domestically. Universal Pictures (Focus Features’ parent company) learned as much when Warcraft destroyed record numbers in China. Kubo is a straight-up epic fantasy film, so much so that international markets might give the film a much-needed lift.
WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING:
The movie was universally anticipated. Now, it can claim the goal of being universally acclaimed. Kubo and the Two Strings currently holds a 96% ‘Certified Fresh’ on Rotten Tomatoes, with the critical consensus stating: “Kubo and the Two Strings matches its incredible animation with an absorbing – and bravely melancholy – story that has something to offer audiences of all ages.”
I will be quite frank here: there are several interviews with Travis Knight where he can come off as quite arrogant. But I’ll give him props: he doesn’t just talk a big game, he backs it up.
Kubo and the Two Strings is an action-packed thrill ride that makes the most of its Japanese folk tale-ish trappings (both visually and narratively) to deliver a very rare beast: a summer blockbuster of the animated persuasion.
If this article has you interested in seeing Kubo and the Two Strings, buy your tickets here on Fandango!
Thank you for reading this installment of What You Should Know!
What do you think? Will Kubo establish a very different identity for LAIKA going forward?
Edited by: Kajsa Rain Forden