“If you must blink, do it now!” So says Kubo (voice of Art Parkinson), a young street performer in his village. He doesn’t want anyone to miss a moment of his show, but he might have been talking to the theatre audience watching “Kubo and the Two Strings.” The fourth feature from stop motion animators Laika the others are is a marvellously engaging tale that sits comfortably on the shelf beside their other films “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” and “The Boxtrolls.”
An original fantasy masquerading as an ancient Japanese myth “Kubo and the Two Strings” centers on Kubo, a one-eyed boy who lives with his mother in a cave. By day he performs in the local fishing village, spinning fantastical musical stories about a samurai warrior, but, whether the tale is done or not, when night falls he must hurry home so as not to reveal his location to his grandfather, the mystic and evil Moon King (Ralph Fiennes, once again playing a supernatural baddie) who has pursued the boy from birth.
Running late one evening he gives away his position. To protect himself and friends he goes on a Joseph Campbell-esque mission to assemble a magical suit of armour. The suit has been dispersed because, as legend has it, “any man who finds the magic armour would be too powerful.” With the help of Monkey (Charlize Theron), a wooden toy come to life, and a goofy bug warrior named Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), he goes on a quest and discovers his true nature. “Do you ever say anything encouraging?” Kubo asks the irascible Monkey. “I encourage you not to die,” she says.
“Kubo and the Two Strings” is a mix of the sublime, the surreal and the silly. The beautiful stop motion animation (with some computer generated images) perfectly compliments the film’s fanciful elements—like a giant skeleton monster—while bringing with it a handmade, organic feel that compliments the film’s use of exotic, DIY origami creations as characters. It’s a wonderful blend of form and subject that allows director Travis Knight to indulge in wonderful visual artistry. It’ll make your eyeballs dance, but some scenes may be too intense for very young viewers.
Big lug Beetle is the film with comic relief, mainly providing the silly when things get intense.
This story of magic, monsters and memories works on two levels. Visually it will engage and impress, but it doesn’t skimp on the emotional content. Kubo’s journey is ripe with primal energy. Betrayal, melancholy, greed and evil are touched on in a new story that already feels like a classic.