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What You Should Know Before Seeing: ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’

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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 (CoralineParaNorman, 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.

PROS:

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.

CONS:

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.

BOX-OFFICE PROSPECTS:

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.”

FINAL OBSERVATION:

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

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About Brandon Smith

Brandon is your average nerd with a love for nerdy things (games, comics, anime/manga, etc.). He also loves reading and writing and plans to be an author someday. For now, he writes with passion and curiosity about the world of animation. He lives with his family in North Carolina and is currently attending college.
  • I seriously can’t wait to see this, so happy a lot of people like it so much 🙂

    • Phoenix Wright

      You won’t be disappointed! I loved it, despite the little girl who sat behind me and talked through the entire thing

      • Oh I hate when that happens! Luckily you liked the movie and that’s amazing to hear!

  • Dante Panora

    Probably won’t be as good as Sausage party…

    AM…I…RITE?

    • Ryan Prieto

      depends on your taste. I think comedy is really hard to recommend to some given that every bodies tastes can very so very much. Unfortunately I also feel that comedies suffer from multiple views because jokes don’t have the same affect the second time, or while watching them alone. I think Kubo will have longer legs though in terms of enjoyment. But I who can tell?

  • Manuel Orozco

    I’m going to wait till DVD Netflix to see the movie. It does look exciting with striking animation!

    • Ryan Prieto

      Look I don’t mean to bribe you but if you go see it in theaters I will literally give you 2.5 billion brownie points. Given today’s exchange rate, no matter where you live that has to be quite a bit.

      • Manuel Orozco

        No thanks

      • Manuel Orozco

        I saw Kubo and the Two Strings today

  • Ryan Prieto

    This was amazing please go out and see it. Not only that get some friends to go see it. Laika needs to know what they are doing holds a great deal of value.

    • Manuel Orozco

      Kubo has to be the best animated feature I’ve seen from this past year tied with Kung Fu Panda 3 and Sing.

  • Yellow

    Just finished watching the movie and I loved it. I’d highly recommend that anyone see it. 😀

    • Manuel Orozco

      I loved Kubo too

  • Brooks Austin

    I’ve really been wanting to see Kubo all year. It was the one big animated movie I really wanted to see besides Zootopia. But I’m very confused because I checked my local movie theater times and they only have it slated for playing at two time slots for this week and it doesn’t seem to be showing up in the schedule for my local theater for later in this week. I thought Kubo just came out this weekend? So why does it look like my local theater is already pulling it? x.X

    • Manuel Orozco

      Although Kubo and Zootopia are competing at the Oscars this year, I’m rooting for Kubo to take home the trophy the most.