This review is SPOILER-FREE
“If you must blink – do it now.”
So begins the sweeping, samurai-inspired tale of Kubo and the Two Strings, and it’s a fair warning. Packed with fantastic action sequences and gorgeous animation from start to finish, Kubo and the Two Strings revives the magic of stop-motion animation to tell an epic adventure of love, loss, revenge…and what comes after.
The story revolves around Kubo – a young man gifted with magical abilities to control objects with his shamisen. After dark forces from his past emerge, Kubo must set out on an epic journey to claim the three pieces of a magical set of armor: the sword unbreakable, armor impenetrable and helmet invulnerable. Only by collecting these sacred relics could he hope to battle the dreaded Sisters and their master, the Moon King. Oh, and the bad guys? They’re also his family. Talk about dysfunctional.
Accompanying him on this epic journey is the sassy and tough Monkey, as well as the kind-hearted (though somewhat empty-headed) Beetle. Together, the trio battle monsters and scale mountains as they seek to arm Kubo with the weapons he needs to be victorious.
Despite being familiar with LAIKA’s previous work, even I had difficulty accepting that Kubo and the Two Strings was a stop-motion film. Numerous times I found myself scratching my head wondering how they possibly got the shot to work, particularly during the action sequences featuring his monstrous aunts known as The Sisters. Their chilling voices are the stuff nightmares are made of, and their fluid motions in the ensuing fight scenes convey their fearsome powers.
The detail and quality isn’t reserved for the high-octane scenes either. Moments of quiet reflection and character development allow for the backgrounds to shine through, from the tree-lined mountains of the forest to the flowing waves of grain in the fields, Kubo tells a story of its own in these moments, and effectively draws in an already invested viewer.
Complementing the unique animation is a fairy tale that holds nothing sacred. There’s a hero, there’s a villain, there’s a path where you think things should go…and then there’s the path that Kubo takes you down. It’s the points of the story where Kubo veers off the beaten path that really sets it apart – decisions in storytelling that are as striking and unique as the animation itself.
A quick aside: most family movies feel the need to throw the adults some one-liners as a way to thank them for suffering through what is otherwise an experience designed and meant for kids. Kubo has no need for such appeasement. A quality epic in its own right, this is a film that is meant to be enjoyed by all ages, and will certainly maintain the attention of everyone in the theater.
The voice acting in Kubo and the Two Strings is fantastic. Art Parkinson (Rickon Stark from Game of Thrones) does a great job conveying the playful spirit of Kubo, while Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey offer up their own brand of banter. Ralph Fiennes, the immortal villain, brings the Moon King and his wretched view of humanity to life with ease.
Overall, Kubo and the Two Strings is a fantastic family film that elevates the medium of animation to the next level. I hope that it enjoys commercial success so that we can continue to see more from LAIKA and their talented animators and storytellers!