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In ancient Japan, a young, musically magical, one-eyed boy goes on a legendary adventure to save his family.

Kubo and the Two Strings takes place in ancient Japan in a small village.  While Kubo may be young and poor he still has high spirits.  Kubo is equipped with a shamisen (a traditional Japanese 3-string banjo-like instrument) that can transform origami paper into shapes and animate them through music.  Everyday Kubo works with another, an older lady street beggar, and he tells stories with his paper and music.  Kubo is told to never be out after dark, and when he finally is, the story truly begins.

Laika has a knack for making really wonderful movies and they did not hold back with Kubo at all. Under their belt so far are Coraline, Paranorman, and Boxtrolls, as well as some other contracted small animations in other well-known projects.  Stop-motion animation is the most meticulous and work involved way to make a film ever, so understanding just that should heighten the appreciation for this film and style. Everything is handmade and hand animated, creating hours upon hours of tireless artwork and filming.  Not knowing or being able to solve how they create some of the onscreen illusions using stop-motion is part of the fun in seeing films of this caliber. Kubo, being a film with firm footing in fantasy and legend, lends itself to a wider variety of characters, locations, creatures, and magic to be shown on the silver screen. Mysticism is the first word that comes to mind when thinking of this movie.

Kubo has so much going on in the movie and yet feels so simple and well-done.  Perhaps that adds to the Japanese aesthetic that Laika was going for in the sense of the simple yet complex.  For example, the art of Origami is a shape or creature made from many simple folds to one piece of paper.  As well as Ikebana, as the art of minimalist floral design that communicates so much. Besides the obvious being that the animation was simply stunning, the scenery throughout the film was breathtaking to say the least.  From ancient Japanese villages to snow covered hills littered with remains of statues, to caves, to bamboo forests, to seas with the deepest and darkest waters, to fortresses, this film took viewers to a true plethora of vistas both staple Japanese and fantasy.  How the scenery flawlessly flowed and changed unnoticed by the viewers’ eyes was a true art as well.  The sets flow seamlessly with the story as well as move it along and that in itself is an aspect of great filmmaking.

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The cast of characters and creatures lend themselves to the furthering beauty of the film as well.  Kubo ends up being one of the least visually interesting of the major characters, yet he still has some great elements.  Clad in a traditional robe with hair being grown for a samurai cut as well as his bangs hanging over his missing eye gave him an interesting enough look.  His contrast to the other characters of a Japanese Snow Macaque as well as a Beetle, and miniature origami samurai were truly great.  Other characters and creatures were that of faceless witches, sea creatures with single, huge eyes, a giant skeleton with swords in its skull, and a giant flying centipede.  The colors and contrast of colors in characters and settings made watching the film an eye candy extravaganza.

The story ultimately may have been the weakest part of the film but that is not saying much as it still was unbelievably great. Kubo goes on this journey to find meaning in the lives of his family, loses some of his family as well as gaining more of it in the process.  It is a story of respect, honor, and remembrance and it communicates those points very well.  Besides the main story of the film, it is foreshadowed at the beginning when Kubo tells one of his street performance stories, and was a great mechanism for setting up the path of which he followed later on.  One thing that was confusing though was that the story starts in a village in Japan, but the village gets destroyed and it is unclear if Kubo is brought to another magical realm, as some characters were trapped there, or if he was always still just travelling around Japan.  It really was a minor detail though as it did not play much to the plot, but the clarification might have added to the ease of suspending disbelief when seeing this film.

Moving along, this movie is not a musical, but it is musical in the sense that Kubo constantly plays his shamisen to manipulate paper as well as other objects around him. The music that Kubo plays is accented as well as complemented by the score of the film.  This film score was composed by Dario Marianelli and other traditional Japanese instruments were used in the songs as well.  By Marianelli utilizing these traditional instruments he made the score add to the ancient and traditional Japanese aesthetic of the film, and it didn’t seem to overpower the film in any way either.  The music was quite enjoyable.  Speaking of sounds leads to the talk of the casting for the film, which was also fun. Art Parkinson stars as Kubo, who some may know from Game of Thrones, and was a good choice for a young boy.  Charlize Theron plays one or two characters and was hard to identify without knowing, which could be both a good and bad thing, however her voice is very smooth and easy on the ears.  Matthew McConaughey was also on the list but did not sound like himself as the usual Southern twang that he sports was not audibly detectable in this role.  Rooney Mara lends her voice to the sisters and did a fine job of it.  George Takei makes an appearance in a role with a signature line too.  Finally, Ralph Fiennes takes on another villainous role and does a great job at it, as usual.

To recap, virtually everything was great in this film.  It was fun to see in theaters, brilliantly animated and designed, had a good story, good music, good voice cast, and was a good-hearted film.  Kubo and the Two Strings will be a film that can be enjoyed time and time again, but should first be seen in the theaters as Laika is quickly becoming a new force to be reckoned with in the world of animated movies.

 

Directed By: Travis Knight

Written By: Shannon Tindle, Marc Haimes

Produced By:  Travis Knight and Arianne Sutner

Starring: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara, George Takei and Ralph Fiennes

Distributed By: Laika

Release Date: August 19th 2016

Run time: 101 minutes

Rated: PG

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