Plain, Simple Tom reviews . . . “Kubo and the Two Strings” (2016)

I should probably begin by saying that I’ve never actually seen a Studio Laika film before. I mean, I had heard of this being “the latest offering from Studio Laika”, but I was left wondering “aaaaand who are they?” So then I inevitably discovered that they had done CoralineParaNorman and The Boxtrolls. Oh. I also feel the need to mention that my main motivation for seeing this film came from the glowing reviews that I read on this site. So youse guys out there were my main source of encouragement!

Anyway, Kubo and the Two Strings takes place in Ancient Japan and our protagonist, Kubo (Art Parkinson), has a special talent for creating moving origami figures via his magic shamisen, putting on amazing shows for the townspeople. However, he soon finds himself being hunted by his evil witch aunts (Rooney Mara) and his grandfather the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) who are intent on taking his one remaining eye. He journeys to retrieve three pieces of enchanted armour, accompanied by the protective Monkey (Charlize Theron) and amnesiac samurai Beetle (Matthew McConaughey).

So, where to begin? The animation, why not? Well, it’s spectacular. The animation of Kubo is beautiful, magnificent and the studio’s hard work certainly pays off; so much of this film is awe-inspiring and the colours are stunning and gorgeous to look at. After a while, you completely forget that it’s stop motion animation, as everything just moves along so smoothly. In addition, the action scenes are just as dramatic and exciting as you’d find in a live-action film and scenes featuring Kubo’s origami displays, The Garden of Eyes and The Skeleton Demon (brought to life by a sixteen foot model!) are excellent. Finally on this subject, the character design is brilliant, particularly the design of the evil aunts, with those memorable, scary masks and Beetle’s samurai armour.

The writing is also particularly laudable; it is smart and mature, never pandering or emotionally manipulative. It is definitely a film that assumes its audience is intelligent; the film is confidently written and its themes of family and love are incredibly powerful and insightful. Kubo finds a family in Monkey and Beetle and through the character dialogue, this is brought to life wonderfully. The film also touches upon themes of human weaknesses and pain, previously explored in such films as Song of the Sea and even Star Trek V. All in all, the writing is genuinely moving, heartfelt and fascinating.

Kubo is also quite funny at times and the clever humour is used perfectly. It is wonderful that the film can get serious and dramatic but it is also not afraid to make a few jokes along the way. The film blends humour and drama perfectly and this again goes a long way in making the film remarkably mature and suitable for all ages.

The voice cast also performs very well; Charlize Theron once again proves that she is the best thing about anything she’s ever in, delivering a performance full of strength, passion and humour. Matthew McConaughey (somewhat in Tim Allen/Buzz Lightyear mode) provides both great comic relief and emotion, Art Parkinson hits all the right notes as Kubo and it was great to hear George Takei’s dulcet tones. “Oh myyyy!”

The music is also noteworthy; the pivotal shamisen music is wonderful and it was surprising to hear Orange is the New Black theme singer Regina Spektor over the closing credits, with a Japanese-infused rendition of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”

If I had to point out any flaws, I would say that Ralph Fiennes is perhaps a bit too hammy and the sequence during the closing credits wherein we see the hard work that the animators had to go through to bring us this film kind of shattered the illusion quite a bit; I sat there thinking “OK, I realise that this was a massive undertaking, but why am I watching a DVD extra?”

Also, there seemed to be something of a battle of egos going on during the closing credits. I mean, quite early on Ralph Fiennes gets the prominent “AND Ralph Fiennes” but then, after a few more names we get “WITH Rooney Mara. AND Matthew McConaughey”. Like I say, it seemed like a bit of an ego battle there . . .

“Will you stop with the arrows already?!”

A mature, intelligent, genuinely moving film with spectacular animation and wonderful music.

★ ★ ★ ★

Oh, and thanks to those who wrote such glowing reviews of this film – your positive feedback led me to discovering this great film! 😉

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