When it comes to animation, Disney is the undisputed master. No one has come close to their depiction of animation and heart, until now. Kubo and the Two Strings is an entirely new IP in a generation of animated movies that are mere sequels, and Laika Entertainment aims high, to carve out one of the best animated/stop-motion movie of not only this year, but this decade.
But their true goal is not just at adding to the animation genre, as it is obvious that they are also aiming to dethrone Pixar from its roost.
Being entirely new has its benefits, as the movie allows director Travis Knight to tell a story without any excess baggage and expectations. Combined with extremely stunning visuals and soundtrack, Kubo is a strong tale that does away with the slapstick of Kungfu Panda, and the nonsense of Despicable Me.
The use of stop motion, while seen as an old movie making technique, exudes a certain level of charm that full on animation and CGI, no matter how realistic, cannot compare with. Laika has been able to leverage on this, to present a flawless technical effort places previous attempts to shame, and the real shame would be if this film gets overlooked in the animation category at next year’s Academy Awards.
Story wise, Kubo and the Two Strings does not pander to its audience and even as we follow young Kubo (Art Parkinson) in his quest to defeat the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), there is some confusion because the movie does not outrightly tell you who his allies are, or explain the motivations of his mother. Like all kids, Kubo’s desire to meet his father gets the better of him. Going against the advice of his mother, their location is revealed when he does not seek shelter from the moonlight.
Kubo and the Two Strings unravels its plot at a good pace, as we journey with Kubo, who has the ability to make origami come to life, to find a mythical armour, sword and helm to vanquish the Moon King. The premise is very video game inspired, and if this is not a set-up for the every Zelda game ever told, we’re not quite sure what else is. It’s a mechanic that works, and allows the audience to get right into the thick of the action fast.
When the animators can actually create a GIF of themselves into a stop motion video as a behind the scenes reel, you know that plenty of hard work (and time) went into the making of the movie. It’s hard to believe that all the characters in the show are actual models, considering the amount of close up shots that are afforded on screen. The animators and director certainly know that they have a polished product on hand, and are not shy in showing it off.
If you’ve watched the trailer, the rolling sea scene comes in right at the start of the movie, and looks even better with the full release. Focus harder and you can see the fish in the water, as the lightning illuminates the dark stormy sky at periodic intervals. Such levels of details are commendable, and the movie deserves a second viewing to ensure that you pick up the finishing touches for each scene.
It’s not only landscapes that the movie excels at, but the action sequences as well. All your favourite anime and samurai action sequences/tropes are all in here. The sword battles and action scenes all have great oomph to them, which is aided by what I assume would be a Japanese samisen to amp up the mood. It’s not a matter of happenstance though, as the samisen is also the core of Kubo’s abilities throughout the entire movie.
While it might be an animated movie, Kubo and the Two Strings is not afraid to shy away from dark scenes. After all, if kids are able to sit through a session of Coraline, this should be a walk in the park for them. That said, the feeling of trepidation is certainly on a much higher scale in Kubo.
What’s a good animated movie without a few laughs? Unlike recent movies that hide a joke that alludes to a reference outside the movie, Kubo plays it straight. Most of the humour comes from the banter between the Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), as they both work together to aid Kubo in his quest. The movie does not try hard to add humour for the sake of it, and it creates light-hearted character conversations to push the plot forward. Such moments are well paced, as it provides a welcome respite between many of the movie’s heavier scenes.
Kubo and the Two Strings sets out to tell a good story and does not cop out in order to craft out a fairy tale ending. In any adventure, sacrifices have to be made and often at great cost. Kubo takes on adversity like a champ, and soldiers on in his quest to defeat his nemesis. Now, that’s one takeaway everyone can leave the cinema with.
And if you leave the theater thinking that the ending might be an allusion to Laika challenging the might of Disney, and coming out on top, maybe there is hope for the future of non-Disney animation after all.