LAIKA’s latest wonder, Kubo and the Two Strings, is a film for your senses and your soul.
The original story tells the tale of Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson), a one-eyed Japanese boy in feudal Japan, who cares for his sickly, widowed mother and who is also the town’s storyteller. He uses his shamisen (a Japanese-style guitar with a square-shaped body and long, narrow neck) along with a stack of origami paper to tell his amazing stories. As he plays his shamisen, the paper gets folded into animated shapes that act out the stories he is sharing. But Kubo’s simple life holds some dark secrets—secrets about his family, about who took his eye, and about the precautions that his mother must take to keep him safe.
As the events of the story begin to unfold, Kubo must go on a perilous journey to recover his brave samurai father’s sword, armor, and helmet. With the help of two magical characters, Monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron) and Beetle (voiced by Matthew McConaughey), Kubo battles against the evil Moon King (voiced by Ralph Finnes) and his two wicked twin daughters the Sisters (both voiced by Rooney Mara) who are part of an age-old vendetta against Kubo’s parents and now Kubo himself.
Infused with Japanese myth, sensibilities, culture, and design, the film does a wonderful job in telling Kubo’s story. At its core, Kubo’s story is really about the relationship between him and his parents. His character has to face some serious vicissitudes; and while the film is a myth, it doesn’t shy away from the true sadness and melancholy of losing a parent and the challenges of keeping honored family traditions moving forward.
I saw Kubo and Two Strings in 3D and it was magnificent (although I think it would be great in any format). The artistic and technical skill of the entire LAIKA team are on display here; the stop-motion animation is tremendous and is seamlessly integrated with whatever CG they used to make each frame beautiful and perfect. I was also particularly moved and delighted by the film’s soundtrack by Dario Marianelli. Kudos to first time director (and LAIKA’s president and CEO) Travis Knight and his entire studio on creating a masterful, emotional, and deeply satisfying film.
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
P.S. Stay through the closing credits if you want to see the LAIKA team creating their movie magic (not to mention the chance to see some cool hand-drawn style animation and hear a great cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by Regina Spektor).