Oregon-based animation house Laika has been on a roll as all of its first three stop-motion-animated movies — Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls — were nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. And as I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), the company probably will make it 4-for-4 with its masterful new entry, Kubo and the Two Strings, an exciting, original and unforgettable adventure for the whole family that will also likely tug at your heartstrings. Laika President and CEO Travis Knight takes the directing reins for the first time, and the results challenge any of the company’s previous efforts in terms of ambition, scope and sheer style. It is an epic inspired by the tradition of Kurosawa and Lean, mixed with more than a bit of the fantasy of The Wizard of Oz.
Set in ancient Japan, the story centers on Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson from Game of Thrones), a young boy who wears a black patch over his missing eye and likes to weave tall tales for anyone who will listen. One day he accidentally sets an evil force loose, summoning up his supernatural Grandfather, who offers him eternal life in exchange for his remaining eye. It’s an offer he can refuse, and it sets him off on an adventure to discover the fate of his parents — in particular his father — and to retrieve three items that will become key in defeating the forces of evil. He picks up a snow monkey (Charlize Theron) and a wiseacre samurai beetle (Matthew McConaughey) to help him along the way, where they run into others including the slippery Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and a pair of evil twin sisters (both voiced by Rooney Mara) who try to cause problems for our young hero.
Knight, with the help of screenwriters Marc Haimes and Chris Butler, has laid out a classic sort of story that works not only as a slam-bang adventure but also as animated art. Most films of this ilk are computer generated these days, but not the stuff coming out of Laika. These artists work in the time-honored tradition of stop motion, a painstaking process that pays off in a gorgeous-looking, and quite different, film experience. With a nod to the 1950s and early-’60s work of Ray Harryhausen, Kubo and the Two Strings is nothing less than a great homage to moviemaking of another, virtually lost era. Dario Marianelli’s lush, Asian-fused music score is of enormous help as well. There’s also a nice touch at the end credits with a new version of the Beatles classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” perfectly chosen for the themes of the film. Arianne Sutner produced along with Knight. Focus Features, which has distributed all three previous Laika features, releases this one Friday.
Do you plan to see Kubo and the Two Strings? Let us know what you think.